- "You, sir, are no Jack Kennedy." came from "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy," Lloyd Bentsen's famous putdown to Dan Quayle.
- Eva Peron (Evita) never said "Volveré y seré millones" (I'll come back, and I'll be millions), as many Argentinians believe. It was said instead by the Aymara leader Túpac Catari. A poem by José María Castiñeira de Dios generated the confusion.
- Henry Kissinger never said "Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?" and had no longer the political position to say it when the European Union formed in 1993.
- Mahatma Gandhi's last words may have been "Hē Rām" (Hindi: "O Ram", Rama being a god), or maybe not.
- Gandhi never said "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win." An American trade union address of 1914 ran "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."
- Scholars have found no evidence that Gandhi actually said "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." or any variation of it. Even if he did, a member of the Canadian House of Parliament had already uttered something along those lines as early as 1914. That said, it's certainly a sentiment he would have agreed with.
- General Motors CEO Charles Wilson is often quoted as saying "What is good for General Motors is good for the country," often cited as the perfect example of corporate arrogance. The fact is, he actually said "...for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa," when asked if he would be willing to take actions against the interests of GM during his confirmation hearings for being appointed Secretary of Defense.
- Not only did Marie Antoinette never say "let them eat cake" (Qu'ils mangent de la brioche), she would likely have been horrified by the accusation, as she was deeply involved in charity work for the poor and gave a significant portion of her income to feed them (more than the rest of the French royal family combined). French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote that a "great princess" said "S'ils n'ont plus de pain, qu'ils mangent de la brioche", commonly translated as "If they have no bread, let them eat cake", when told peasants were starving, but wrote this when Marie was a child—and besides, Rousseau died well before The French Revolution (in 1778). The quote may have satirised Marie Theresa, wife of Louis XV, before it was transferred to Marie Antoinette. Note that brioche is not really cake but a rich variety of bread with a higher egg and butter content than normal bread.
- Louis Antoine St Just never said at the trial of Louis XVI, "A King must reign or die", he said "This man must reign or die."
- The "We Will Bury You!" speech Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave to a group of Western politicians in 1956. Partly poor translation, partly because West-East tensions were already increasing in this stage of the Cold War, the comment was interpreted as a direct nuclear threat against the United States. The complete quote is "Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will dig you in" (Нравится вам или нет, но история на нашей стороне. Мы вас закопаем Nravitsya vam ili nyet, no istoria na nashey storone. My vas zakopayem.), in reference to the common Marxist saying "The proletariatnote is the undertaker [mortician] of capitalism". Khrushchev was actually expressing the communist theory that capitalism was historically predetermined to eventually be supplanted by communism. He meant that the Soviet Union would long outlast the western powers, as in "we'll attend your funeral", not cause it. "We will still be here when they bury you!" might be more to the point.
- Benjamin Franklin:
- He wasn't the first to say, "Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." He may have quoted it, but it originated in 1716 with Christopher Bullock's "'Tis impossible to be sure of anything but Death and Taxes." Or perhaps Charles II of England: "There are three things in life that are certain, death, taxes and that it is raining in Tavistock."
- Benjamin Franklin's supposed proverb, "The proof is in the pudding" is actually, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating", and it is a bit older than Benjamin Franklin, dating at least to 1615, when it was used in Don Quixote. Furthermore, most people don't even understand what that's meant to mean. In the above quote, the term "proof" means "test", not "evidence". Possibly the reason for the original misquote.
- Benjamin Franklin also did not say, or write, "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote." The word "lunch" hadn't yet entered the English language in his time.
- The first part of the quote comes from a 1990 Usenet discussion group on politics and seems to have been written by Gary Strand, although he may have been quoting someone else. Two years later it was used, unattributed, by Marvin Simkin writing in the Los Angeles Times, with a much better second half: "Democracy is not freedom. Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch. Freedom comes from the recognition of certain rights which may not be taken, not even by a 99% vote."
- Another commonly mangled Franklin quote is "Those who trade liberty for security deserve neither." What Franklin actually said is: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
- The quote did not necessarily originate with Franklin, it's an excerpt from a letter written in 1755 from the Assembly to the Governor of Pennsylvania. That said, Franklin was a prominent member of the Assembly—being a leader of the anti-proprietary partynote —in 1755, so it's possible that it did issue from his pen.
- Another Ben Franklin misquote is "beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." The real quote - from a letter - was about rain, and how it makes grapes for wine grow, as shown here.
- British Prime Minister James 'Sunny Jim' Callaghan is commonly perceived to have been asked about the late 1970s economic crisis and responded, "Crisis? What crisis?" when he never said anything of the sort. It was actually a Sun headline. The real quote:
"Well, that's a judgment that you are making. I promise you that if you look at it from outside, and perhaps you're taking rather a parochial view at the moment, I don't think that other people in the world would share the view that there is mounting chaos."
- The headline was probably inspired by Supertramp's 1975 album, Crisis? What Crisis?.
- The quote "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." is often attributed to Voltaire, but he never uses this himself. Rather, it is a summation of his beliefs by Evelyn Beatrice Hall.
- He wrote something similar in a letter: "Monsieur l'abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write."
- Voltaire also never quite called Canada "a few acres of snow" (quelques arpents de neige). He did mention (in Candide) that Britain and France were fighting over "a few acres of snow somewhere around Canada" [emphasis added], and in a letter wrote dismissively about ''a few acres of ice in Canada", but he never exactly said that Canada itself was "a few acres of snow." This is in part because "Canada" at the time was a vague geographical expression occasionally referring to all of New France, including Louisiana (which itself included the whole Mississippi Basin at the time). That said, Voltaire really was quite dismissive of the value of France's colonies on the North American mainland; he considered their transfer to Britain a good riddance.
- Genghis Khan never actually said "Crush your enemies! See them driven before you and hear the lamentation of the women." His actual quote was much more verbose and went into detail about the women part.
- "After me, the deluge" is often attributed to Louis XIV and presented as a kind of worried foreshadowing about the future decadence and destruction of the French Bourbon monarchy, further proof of what a clever statesman he was. But in reality it was said years later by Louis XV's mistress, Madame de Pompadour (though even this is disputed) and it had the exact opposite meaning: she was trying to convince her lover to not worry after the loss of France's North American colonies following the Seven Years' War, under the reasoning that whatever happened to France after them wouldn't be their business, since they wouldn't be there to see it anyway. It's also a derivation of an Ancient Greek stock phrase that translates more or less as "When I die let earth and fire mix; I don't care, since my business will not be affected".
- Apres moi, le deluge was also chosen as the squadron motto of the Royal Air Force 617 Squadron, the famous Dambusters, in reference to their famous raid, and they cited Louis XIV as the source. They naturally meant it rather more literally.
- There is no proof that Louis XIV of France ever said "L'état, c'est moi" (I am the State). Indeed, what he is recording as having said (as his final words, or near as) conveys the precise opposite meaning: "Je m'en vais, mais l'État demeurera toujours." ("I depart, but the State will remain forever.") (The statements are reconcilable; when he passes, the new king becomes the State. Mind, the new king was five years old...)
- When portrayed in fiction, Richard Nixon will almost invariably assure anyone listening that he is not a crook. While Nixon actually did say "I am not a crook" it was actually part of a larger speech and not a standalone sentence like it's usually shown.
- "I am not a crook" has always been how that part of the speech has been quoted in anything making fun of Nixon during Watergate and after. However, the then-president used a contraction, the relevant part of the speech going: "People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got."
- Nixon never said "We're all Keynesians now". Milton Friedman did, but as part of a longer quote.
- Speaking of Friedman, he never said "There's no such thing as a free lunch" - Robert A. Heinlein said it.
- The song, "Mao Tse Tung Said" by Alabama 3 and the original speeches by the person Alabama 3 sampled, Jim Jones, would have you believe Mao Zedong said "change must come through the barrel of a gun." Mao actually said "Every Communist must grasp the truth: Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."
- Norman Tebbit did not actually say "on yer bike". It was actually:
I grew up in the '30s with an unemployed father. He didn't riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking 'til he found it.
- Paul Revere is quoted as having ridden through town shouting, "The British are coming!" In reality, (1) his mission depended on secrecy - passing a message privately to one person he could trust in each town was a lot better than alerting nearby British troops that a resistance was planned; (2) Many colonial residents saw themselves as British people at the time.
- Because many of the people still saw themselves as British, they were referred to as the "Regulars", not the "British".
- Perhaps in an attempt to rectify this somewhat, Paul Revere is sometimes depicted as shouting "The Redcoats are coming," referring to the color of the British soldier's uniforms.
- Also, Revere apparently never finished his ride because he was captured in Lexington. Other riders did, but apparently their names didn't rhyme as well.
- Gen. Philip Sheridan is sometimes quoted as saying, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." The earliest version is actually, "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead" and Sheridan denied having even said that. Even worse is when Sheridan's line is attributed to far more famous Americans, including some who were not anti-Indian.
- "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely" was actually derived from a statement by Lord Acton: "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
- Nathan Bedford Forest never said "git thar fustest with the mostest" he said the essence of strategy was "to git thar fust with the most men" or alternatively, that he "just took a shortcut and got there first with the most men".
- Confederate Civil War General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson is often said to have gained his nickname by General Barnard Bee saying at the First Battle of Manassas (also called the First Battle of Bull Run): "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall! Rally around the Virginians!" However, some accounts have Bee saying, "Why is Jackson standing there like a damned stone wall?". Reports are unclear because Bee wasn't around to clarify what he said; he died that afternoon.
- Queen Victoria never said "We are not amused." (Which didn't stop Rose of Doctor Who from trying to get that phrase out of her anyway. Maybe she didn't know that... or maybe she did and was trying to Set Right What Once Went Wrong.)
- In fact, Her Majesty once wrote in her diary "We are VERY MUCH amused!" Yes, with those capitals.
- She did once say something similar - to a courtier who was telling a dirty joke in the presence of a group of young children. And she wasn't using the "royal we", by "we are not amused", she meant "The courtiers and I are not amused." The idea that she was constantly gloomy comes both from her many years in mourning after her husband died and from the fact that having one's picture taken was considered a very serious matter, and people normally didn't smile in photos. (Beyond decorum, photographic plates of that era required a very long exposure; a good photograph required a pose and expression that the subject could hold for long periods.) Even then there are more pictures of Victoria laughing than of all nine of her children combined.
- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was mistranslated as "Israel must be wiped off the face of the map"; it was actually, "The regime which is occupying Jerusalem should vanish from the pages of time." Whether the mistranslation was deliberate or not is unknown. Either way, it changes the emphasis, making clear that Ahmedinejad's beef is with the Israeli regime rather than than the people who live there (which is fairly standard Islamist rhetoric on the subject).
- Whether the different translation actually changes the meaning is debatable. It is worth recalling that people who like Ahmadinejad do not recognize the existence of Israel have to use circumscriptions like "regime" or "Zionist entity" instead of "nation" and that for them by definition there is no Israeli people. On the other hand, that aside, it changes the emphasis in a way similar to the correct translation of Khrushchev's famous quote about burying capitalism: it doesn't say that Iran will destroy Israel, but rather implies that someone else—possibly even the Israelis themselves—will be responsible for ending the Israeli state and Iran will be present for the event.
- Emma Goldman was quoted on a T-shirt, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be in your revolution," but actually said the more verbose:
At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest
. One evening a cousin of Sasha [Alexander Berkman], a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause. I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy.
I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. "I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everyboy's right to beautiful, radiant things." Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world—prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.
- "Whenever I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my revolver" is probably Hermann Goering's most (in)famous saying. But it actually comes from the play Schlageter, written by Hanns Johst and first performed for Hitler's birthday in 1933. While Goering might have quoted it, the only senior Nazi actually recorded saying it was Baldur von Schirach, in a speech from 1938, when the play was already well known by the general public. Its original form is "Wenn ich Kultur höre... entsichere ich meinen Browning!" - "When I hear 'culture' ... I remove the safety from my Browning!"
Note that a Browning is not a revolver, but a magazine-fed semi-automatic pistolnote . The context is important too: the play describes wealthy people going to the theater and talking about culture while a homeless orphan child dies on the snowy street nearby. The quote is a moral of a story. It may have been chosen to pun on the English poet Robert Browning.
- "If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve." by William Tecumseh Sherman - who actually said "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected."
- Calvin Coolidge said "After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world.", usually shortened to the less meaningful "The business of America is business."
- People probably accept the shortened version due to Coolidge being known as "Silent Cal," i.e. a man of few words.
- The famous speech by Chief Seattle "How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? [...] The end of living and the beginning of survival." was invented in 1971 by screenwriter Ted Perry for the movie Home.
- Si’ahl's actual speech (based on translations — he spoke in his native language) was far more pessimistic than the New Age version.
- Otto Von Bismarck is said to have said "To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making." The earliest such quote is in 1869 by John Godfrey Saxe, who said, "Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made."
- Bismarck also never said, "A language is a dialect with a navy" (to explain, for example, why Spanish and Portuguese are seen as two languages but Tuscan and Sicilian are one). The linguist Max Weinreich or his student Joshua Fishman said in Yiddish, A shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot - "A language is a dialect with an army and navy."
- Socrates is frequently quoted as complaining that
The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in lace of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.
- However, this was actually attributed to him by Gijsbert van Hall, mayor of Amsterdam in the 1960s. There are somewhat similar complaints in Plato and Hesiod, but not the above paragraph.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. never said "shouting fire in a crowded theater". With reference to the restriction of free speech, he said
The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. [...] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.
- "Only the dead have seen the end of war." is often attributed to Plato, but it's actually not recorded before its 1924 use by George Santayana. It's believed to have been been misattributed to Plato by the British Imperial War Museum. The popularity of this misconception within the U.S. military stems from General Douglas MacArthur attributing the quote to Plato during his farewell address at West Point in 1962.
- François Guizot famously said "Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head." (referring to mid-19th century French republicanism) It's been often changed to conservative/liberal or communist/capitalist, and attributed to many, including Otto Von Bismarck and Winston Churchill (very unlikely, as Churchill crossed from Conservative to Liberal aged 30, then went back to the Conservative Party aged 50).
- It is true, however, that Vladimir Putin paraphrased it as "Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants to restore it back as it was has no brain."
- British Conservative leader (and later Prime Minister) David Cameron never exhorted people to "hug a hoodie." The closest excerpts from his July 2006 speech are:
Because the fact is that the hoodie is a response to a problem, not a problem in itself. We - the people in suits - often see hoodies as aggressive, the uniform of a rebel army of young gangsters. But, for young people, hoodies are often more defensive than offensive. They're a way to stay invisible in the street. In a dangerous environment the best thing to do is keep your head down, blend in, don't stand out. For some, the hoodie represents all that's wrong about youth culture in Britain today. For me, adult society's response to the hoodie shows how far we are from finding the long-term answers to put things right. [...] So when you see a child walking down the road, hoodie up, head down, moody, swaggering, dominating the pavement - think what has brought that child to that moment.
- "I have seen the future, and it works." derives from Lincoln Steffens' 1921 statement on the Soviet Union: "I have been over into the future, and it works."
- Abraham Lincoln never said, "As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless." The quote was published 20 years after Honest Abe's death, and his secretary immediately denounced it as a fraud. But it was used a lot in the 1896 presidential election, and came to be seen as fact. That said, it is true that Lincoln was not entirely comfortable with the rise of the corporate business elite in his time.
- Another quote usually attributed to Lincoln is "You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time but you cannot fool all the people all the time." However, there is no hard proof that he ever truly said it, although again it is consonant with some things he said or clearly believed.
- A.E. Housman never wrote: "We were soldiers once, and young", or even anything closely approximating it.
- There's no record of George Orwell saying, "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." This apparently originated as a paraphrase of several loosely similar things he wrote rebuking pacifists in World War II, the most similar of which occurs in his essay "Notes on Nationalism": "Those who 'abjure' violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf." The reference to "rough men" apparently originated with conservative columnist Richard Grenier.
- Famous lines never said by Winston Churchill:
- "Don't talk to me about naval tradition. The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash."; his personal secretary, Anthony Montague-Browne, said that although Churchill did not say this, he wished he had. (Note that the British Navy abolished the practice of flogging in 1948, and that rum rations were discontinued in 1970. The modern navy runs on sodomy, and sodomy alone.)
- Speaking of Churchill, he never said "I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat and tears." The quote was shortened from the less memorable, "I have nothing to offer but blood and toil, tears and sweat." Even historians get this one wrong.
- Churchill also never said "We shall fight them on the beaches", it was:
I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once more able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. Even though large parts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches
, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old.
- Very few people know that it's actually a quote partially taken from George Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France during the First World War:
"The Germans may take Paris, but that will not prevent me from going on with the war. We will fight on the Loire, we will fight on the Garonne, we will fight even in the Pyrenees. And if at last we are driven off the Pyrenees, we will continue the war at sea."
- Also, someone once wrote to The Strand magazine complaining that someone had ended a sentence with a preposition. Somebody commented in reply, "This is nonsense up with which I will not put," often attributed to Churchill but it almost certainly wasn't him. This misattribution may originally owe to the simple expedient that the kind of Know-Nothing Know-It-All who still insists on following this "rule" decades after it was thoroughly discredited as an artificial construct with less bearing on how English is actually used than Japanese verb conjugation would be more swayed by a sentence constructed to prove its absurdity if it comes from someone known for eloquent, moving speeches than from some random person writing to a magazine.
- "Any man who is under thirty (or twenty) and is not a liberal has no heart, and any man who is over thirty (or forty) and is not a conservative has no brain."
- "He is a modest man, with much to be modest about." (supposedly said with regard to his deputy and later successor as Prime Minister, Clement Attlee.)
- "An empty car pulled up in front of Downing Street this morning, and Clement Attlee got out." A biographer once asked Churchill about this, and Churchill actually seemed offended that the quote was attributed to him, as he held Attlee in high personal (if not political) regard.
- In Germany, the quote "I'll never believe in a statistic I haven't forged myself" or paraphrases thereof is almost always associated with Churchill, and many Germans react surprised when Anglophones have never heard of it. That's because that line was attributed to Churchill by the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, in an attempt to downplay casualty reports broadcast to Germany by the BBC. This background faded out of public consciousness, and today it's often cited to emphasize the arbitrariness of statistics, similar to Twain's "Lies, damned lies and statistics". That the snarkiness of the quote actually fit with Churchill's public perception probably helped.
- On the Internet, neo-Nazis like to claim that Churchill said "Germany is too strong. We must destroy her." in November of 1936. There appears to be no credible source for this quote.
- The The Duke of Wellington did not describe the Battle of Waterloo as "A damn close run thing", but as "a damn nice thing-the nearest run thing you ever saw."
- Which, as anyone who has read Good Omens will know, is probably using "nice" in its less well-known sense of "requiring great precision".
- He also never said "The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton." The historian Nevill records that, decades after Waterloo, Wellington saw a cricket match in Eton and remarked,
There grows the stuff that won Waterloo.
- Queen Elizabeth I's final words were supposedly, "All my possessions for a moment of time", but there's no contemporaneous record of this. It was probably inspired by Shakespeare's Richard III: "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!"
- Which itself is purely an invention of Shakespeare's, Richard himself never said anything like it.
- Elizabeth said nothing at all during the last several days of her life. She communicated with her attendants with signs. She was very old for her era and the opinion of those around was that she hastened her death by refusing to follow medical advice. (Then, again, medical practices of the day being what they were, she may have simply decided that medical advice was useless.)
- The famous British newspaper headline "FOG IN CHANNEL; CONTINENT CUT OFF" hasn't been found in any archive and is probably apocryphal.
- How many of the car owners with "Well-behaved women rarely make history" bumper stickers are aware that the quote: 1-originated in an article by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, 2-was originally "Well-behaved women seldom make history," and 3-was a comment justifying the lack of information about the lives of Puritan women in colonial New England?
- Andrew Jackson supposedly said, "To the victors [belong] the spoils." to justify handing out political offices to his cronies. The real version was said by William Marcy: "When they are contending for victory, they avow their intention of enjoying the fruits of it. ... They see nothing wrong in the rule that to the victor belongs the spoils."
- Adm. Yamamoto is quoted as saying "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve"; actually he said nothing like it, except "A military man can scarcely pride himself on having 'smitten a sleeping enemy'; it is more a matter of shame, simply, for the one smitten. I would rather you made your appraisal after seeing what the enemy does, since it is certain that, angered and outraged, he will soon launch a determined counterattack."
- The "Sleeping Giant" quote is actually from the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! which is where everyone remembers it from, even though the historical Yamamoto never actually said it. On the other hand, is absolutely true that Yamamoto thought that getting into a fight with the United States would spell disaster for Japan, and that it was only a matter of time before the US got itself an insurmountable advantage in any war in the Pacific. Indeed, he predicted that the attack on Pearl Harbor at best bought Japan 6-12 months of clear sailing. The first major American victory in the Pacific, the Battle of Midway, ended on 7 June 1942—six months to the day after Pearl Harbor.
- Horatio Nelson's last words are given as "Kismet, Hardy" (kismet being Persian for "fate") or "Kiss me, Hardy". He did say the latter, and Flag Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy did kiss him, but his last words were actually. "Thank God, I have done my duty ... drink, drink ... fan, fan ... rub, rub", as he called for the men to ease his thirst, heat and pain.
He only felt that his great work was done,
That one brave heart was kneeling at his side:
So murmuring, "Kiss me, Hardy," Nelson, smiling, died.
- Branwell Brontë
- William Tecumseh Sherman is often quoted as saying "War is hell." He said something like it to the graduating Class of 1879 at Michigan Military Academy, but there's multiple accounts of exactly what he said:
- "You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!"
- "There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all Hell."
- "Some of you young men think that war is all glamor and glory, but let me tell you, boys, it is all Hell!"
- Gaius Julius Caesar never said "Et tu, Brute?" when he was stabbed to death in the Senate. We can thank Shakespeare for that one. Roman historian Suetonius reports a tale that he said "Kai su, teknon?" (which is Greek for "You too, my son?", since the Romans often spoke Greek in the Senate because it was the common language of the empire - Latin was the local language and at the time was only spoken in Rome and the surrounding areas), but himself believes Caesar said nothing at all.
- The Rome TV series plays with this. Caesar tries to talk when he is dying but he can't. Later, when Brutus' mother joins those who are asking him to leave the city, Brutus replies her with a "You too, Mother?"
- Alternatively, "Kai su, teknon" may have been the first part of a common saying at the time. The full phrase, και συ τεκνον Θα έχετε τη δύναμη kai su teknon tha échete te dyname, translates as "You too, my child, shall soon have a taste of power" - essentially, Caesar might have been trying somewhat spitefully (and prophetically as it turned out) to say "you're next, kid".
- Sarah Palin never said, "I can see Russia from my house." That was Tina Fey parodying Palin, who had actually said, "They're our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska." Which is actually true, although the island in question has a population of less than 150.note
- Barack Obama is often quoted as saying that the US has 57 states. What he actually said was "I’ve now been in 57 states? I think one left to go [Oregon]. Alaska and Hawaii...I was not allowed to go to even though I really wanted to visit, but my staff would not justify it." He should have said "47 states", but in his speech mistakenly implied that there were 60 in total, probably by doing the math in his head as he was speaking (50 minus 3) and not noticing what he was saying.
- Edmund Burke never said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."; it was "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
- The Conservative prime minister Harold Macmillan, when asked to name the greatest difficulty facing a PM, said: "The opposition of events." This was changed to "events, dear boy, events", by persons unknown.
- He's even better known for saying "You've never had it so good." The actual quote was "indeed let us be frank about it — most of our people have never had it so good."
- George W. Bush didn't say, "...then the terrorists have won", or "...then the terrorists win". The meme originates from the comments of Frank Pierson, then-head of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, after he refused to postpone the Oscar ceremonies following 9/11:
"If we give in to fear, if we aren't able to do these simple and ordinary things, the terrorists have won the war."
- At the 2001 Emmy Awards ceremony, which were twice delayed as a result of 9/11, and aired on November 4th (the Emmys usually air in mid-September), host Ellen DeGeneres famously said:
"We're told to go on living our lives as usual, because to do otherwise is to let the terrorists win, and really, what would upset the Taliban more than a gay woman wearing a suit in front of a room full of Jews?"
- In fact, "the terrorists have won" actually originated no later than the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombings. As the Ocala Star-Banner put it:
"Our response to terrorism should be carefully measured. If our First Amendment rights suffer as a result of the awful domestic terrorist attack in Oklahoma City the terrorists have indeed, won."
- Nor did Bush ever say that "a lot of our imports come from other countries". The actual phrase was "a lot of our imports come from overseas", i.e. countries other than Canada and Mexico.
- Bush also never told John Kerry "You forgot Poland" during their first debate in 2004. The exchange went like this:
John Kerry: When we went in, there were three countries: Great Britain, Australia and the United States. That’s not a grand coalition. We can do better.
Jim Lehrer: Thirty seconds, Mr. President.
George W. Bush: Well, actually, he forgot Poland. And now there’s 30 nations involved, standing side by side with our American troops.
- Edward VIII did not offer the in-depth commentary on unemployment, "Something must be done." A journalist made it up.
- Charlie Haughey did not refer to the Malcolm MacArthur case (described here) as "grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented" (GUBU), but said, "It was a bizarre happening, an unprecedented situation, a grotesque situation, an almost unbelievable mischance."
- Niccolò Machiavelli never said, "The ends justify the means", but the far more moderate and reserved (and Magnificent Bastard-ish) "One must consider the final result.", as well as "[If the monarch is careful to preserve the State] the means will always be esteemed, honored and applauded by everyone".
- The Roman poet Ovid wrote in around 10 BC: "Exitus acta probat," which is usually translated as "the ends justify the means."
- Napoleon Bonaparte popularized it by saying "the ends justifies the means" while trying to quote Machiavelli.
- New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael never said, "I can't believe Nixon won. Nobody I know voted for him." The actual quote is:
"I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know. They're outside my ken. But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them."
- Compounding this, the common version of the quote is often misattributed to either Katharine Graham or Susan Sontag.
- A similarly damaging quote attributed to "elitist liberals" was, "The people are just too damn dumb to understand!", attributed to New Dealer Harry Hopkins, supposedly attacking critics of the New Deal. He actually said, "You know some people make fun of people who speak a foreign language, and dumb people criticize something they do not understand..." making it more of a Take That against the type of people who would misinterpret his remarks.
- Margaret Thatcher did say "there is no such thing as society", but quoted in context it's a lot less evil-sounding:
"I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it. 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation."
- Enoch Powell's notorious 1968 speech on immigration does not actually feature the precise expression "rivers of blood". He instead quotes Virgil, who saw "the River Tiber foaming with much blood".
- "We are going to build the Tories out of London." Attributed to Herbert Morrison,note but no evidence that he said it.
- Hartley Shawcross didn't say, "We are the masters now." It was "We are the masters at the moment and shall be for some considerable time."
- Deng Xiaoping never said, "To get rich is glorious."
- "The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic." - Despite the general misconception, Josef Stalin never said that. The quote, in fact, is the final line of chapter eight of The Black Obelisk (1956) by Erich Maria Remarque. A very similar saying appears in Kurt Tucholsky's satirical work, The French Witticism, from almost thirty years earlier.
- Stalin is also sometimes credited with "death solves all problems. There is a person - there is a problem. No person - no problem". This is in fact from a novel Children of Arbat by A. Ribakov.
- While it's true that he had a poor view of political opponents and said as much, ("idiot Romanov" and "windbag Kerensky"), there is no record of Lenin or Stalin using the term "useful idiot" (polyezniy idiot) to describe Western communists. Its earliest known usage is in a 1948 New York Times article on Italian politics.
- Karl Marx never actually said, "Religion is the opiate of the masses." The correct quote is "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."
- Not to mention that opium was more than an addictive and dangerous drug — it was the source of fantastic visions of the "opium eaters", a painkiller used in medicine, and a treatment for cholera.
- Ronald Reagan never said ketchup was a vegetable. School lunch regulations allowing ketchup to be counted as a vegetable for purposes of meeting the minimum requirements for lunches were passed under his administration, but he never actually claimed that this meant it actually was a vegetable.
- Although Martin Luther King, Jr. did say, "Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate:only love can do that.", he never said, "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 comes from Facebooker Jessica Dovey (responding to the killing of Osama bin Laden and the jubilant reaction of some people at it), and she made it plain in her original status which part was the actual MLK quote. Too bad that Facebook status copy/pasters can't interpret punctuation.
- Malcolm X's quote "We wake up, we clean up, we stand up!" is often misquoted as "It's time to wake up, clean up and stand up!".
- Civil rights worker Fannie Lou Hamer is credited with "Sick and tired of being sick and tired": it's on her tombstone. The complete quote is "All my life I've been sick and tired. Now I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."
- The phrase "I'd rather die standing up than living on my knees". Many have been the people who have been quoted to its creation: Emiliano Zapata, Benito Juárez, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, etc.
- There is an old Frisian folk saying "Better dead than a slave."
- British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain never said "Peace in our time". What he did say however was "Peace for our time".
- Al Gore did NOT say he invented the Internet. His actual statement became, through Memetic Mutation and political opposition, Al Gore, inventor of the Internet.
- The actual statement: "During my service in the United States Congress I took the initiative in creating the internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country's economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system." It's abundantly clear to anyone listening that he wasn't claiming credit for literally creating the internet, but for rather spearheading the funding that helped develop the technology that made the internet possible. And it turns out, he did just what he claimed.
- The United States Constitution never uses the phrase "separation of church and state." It was actually Thomas Jefferson who referred to the Constitution itself as "a wall of separation..."
- That being said, the absence of that exact phrase does not mean absence of the concept, as some like to argue. The First Amendment reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" - basically the same idea, if in legalese - and the Supreme Court (whose word on the Constitution is basically canon, considering that interpreting the Constitution is their job) have interpreted that phrase in light of Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation" quote and other quotes by the Founding Fathers making clear their lack of desire to bring religion into government and vice versa. Theocratic types tend to run with the fact that the Constitution doesn't include that particular phrase, thinking that means that writing religion into law is constitutional. No, it isn't.
- This was a contentious issue when the Constitution was written and ratified-Patrick Henry felt that the Constitution as written would still allow for such government support of religion.
- Note that the clause only forbids Congress from establishing a church on the Federal level; as originally ratified, the Constitution also forbids Congress to disestablish a State church, the last of which lingered to 1833, when Massachusetts disestablished the Congregational Church.note (The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified 1868, changes that; the doctrine of incorporation holds that the "fundamental rights" protected from federal interference by the Bill of Rights are also protected from interference by the states.)
- Ethan Allen, HERO OF THE REVOLUTION! never said "In the Name of the Great Jehovah, and the Continental Congress!" when he defeated the British commander in upstate New York. He actually said "Come on out of there, you Damned old Rat." In any case, as one historian noted, He had a commission from neither one.
- After the Battle of Lake Erie during the war of 1812 U.S. Naval Master Commandant (the equivalent of the current rank of commander) Oliver Hazard Perry sent a famous battle report to Major General (and future president) William Henry Harrison that is often misquoted as "We Have Met the enemy and he is us". However Perry report actually said "We have met the enemy and they are ours; two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop." We can probably thank Pogo creator Walt Kelly for the misquote as he used it first as an attack against McCarthyism and later as an Earth Day slogan.
- The disaster of the Prussian Army at the 1806 Battle of Jena-Auerstadt had been quoted by historians as "Napoleon / The Emperor whistled and Prussia was no more", or "Napoleon / The Emperor blew with his breath and Prussian military might was no more", supposedly in reference to how German poet Heinrich Heine described the event. Actually Heine, then a 9-year old kid, saw Napoleon riding triumphantly into Düsseldorf after the battle and years later wrote: "Everyone knew The Emperor's lips had only to whistle and Prussia would cease to exist."
- Bill Clinton himself never said, "It's the economy, stupid!" Said phrase was adapted from James Carville's (Bill Clinton's campaign manager) sign (during Clinton's campaign), which displayed the following:
- Change vs. more of the same
- The economy, stupid
- Don't forget health care
- One of the most famous quotes from Nazism and therefore Adolf Hitler goes like "Do you want total war, or do you want total radical war?" The real quote went instead: "Do you want total war? If necessary, do you want a war more total and radical than anything that we can even imagine today?", and it comes from Joseph Goebbels' famous Sportpalast speech, not Hitler.
- John F. Kennedy DID say, in a speech 'Ich Bin Ein Berliner'. However, contrary to some reports, this would not have sounded like 'I am a Jelly Doughnut' to native Berliners any more than a German announcing that he was a New Yorker would sound like he was announcing he was a magazinenote
- German General Von Falkenhayn calling the British Expeditionary Force in World War I "lions led by donkeys" was apparently an invention of historian Alan Clark, MP for his book The Donkeys (1961). Similar phrases long predate Falkenhayn's apocryphal comment, anyway, from as far back as the Crimean War.
- The phrase "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" is believed to have originated with Abraham Lincoln describing Union General Ambrose Burnside. The quote (at least in this incarnation) actually originates from Charles Fair's 1969 book From the Jaws of Victory, a study of military incompetence. Fair himself never attributed to the quote to Lincoln: the quote appeared on the book's dust jacket of all places. Fair thought his publishers somehow confused his own comment on Burnside with a Lincoln quote.
- Technically speaking, Harry Truman did say "If you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em", but it was in reference to it being an "old political trick" that he was disparaging. The full quote is as follows:
Harry Truman: On the one hand, the Republicans are telling industrial workers that the high cost of food in the cities is due to this government's farm policy. On the other hand, the Republicans are telling the farmers that the high cost of manufactured goods on the farm is due to this government's labor policy. That's plain hokum. It's an old political trick: "If you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em." But this time it won't work.
- Adolf Hitler never said, "This year will go down in history! For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration! Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future!", and in fact, some aspects of gun laws were actually looser in Nazi Germany than in the Weimar Republic (for Nazi party members anyway. Untermensch like Jews weren't so lucky).
- Nor did Hitler say, "Who remembers nowadays the Armenians?" in regards to Jews. He actually said in the August 22, 1939 speech: "Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?"note and the previous lines made clear he was talking of the Poles.note
- Same war, opposite side: Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Infamy Speech" did not refer to December 7, 1941 as "a day that will live in infamy." The actual quote was "a date which will live in infamy". This is probably changed due to the mistaken perception that "that" is for restrictive clauses and "which" is for non-restrictive clauses and never shall the two mingle, and "date that" either sounds weird or the ending "t" sound gets lost in the start of the next word so it becomes "day that".
- Georgia Representative John Lewis gets flack on the internet for saying that the slave trade changed the migratory paths of sharks in the Atlantic. The bad part is that it was actually New Jersey Representative Donald M. Payne, Jr. who said it. The worse part is that the misattribution (along with other colorful exaggerations) could have originated in a rather poorly worded reply in Yahoo! Answers.
- Andrea Dworkin never wrote "all men are rapists" or "all sex is rape." Nor did Catherine MacKinnon.
- The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act's infamous "indefinite detention" provision caused such an uproar at the time it was signed that Chris Hedges sued the US government over the issue, worried that the slightest support for terrorists would get people like him a one-way ticket to Gitmo. In point of fact, the provision is one of counterterrorism, but it's specifically meant to target those "who are part of or substantially support Al Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces engaged in hostilities against the United States", and according to the definition of "enemy combatant" (who would under said provision be the "covered persons") you have to be in armed conflict against the United States and its allies or in direct and explicit support of those in armed conflict against the United States and its allies to truly be in danger of indefinite detention (as Hedges learned when his case reached the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013).
- John Steinbeck is often quoted as having said, "Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires". This is actually a paraphrase of a passage from "A Primer on the '30s", an essay he wrote for Esquire magazine in 1960:
"Except for the field organizers of strikes, who were pretty tough monkeys and devoted, most of the so-called Communists I met were middle-class, middle-aged people playing a game of dreams. I remember a woman in easy circumstances saying to another even more affluent: ‘After the revolution even we will have more, won’t we, dear?’ Then there was another lover of proletarians who used to raise hell with Sunday picknickers on her property.
"I guess the trouble was that we didn’t have any self-admitted proletarians. Everyone was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist. Maybe the Communists so closely questioned by the investigation committees were a danger to America, but the ones I knew—at least they claimed to be Communists—couldn’t have disrupted a Sunday-school picnic. Besides they were too busy fighting among themselves
- Sinclair Lewis never actually said, "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." He did, however, write a novel (It Can't Happen Here) the plot of which could be summed up quite nicely in that sentence.
- Jimmy Carter's 1979 "Crisis of Confidence" speech is often referred to as the "Malaise" speech, even though the term "malaise" was never used in the speech.