Two characters are discussing a controversial, possibly Ripped from the Headlines
course of action or social policy. After one of them comes out against it, the other recites a quote endorsing it, or a description of a person who believed it. When the person opposing the policy asks who said that, the proponent identifies it as being by a universally respected historical figure, religious icon, or someone else who is typically considered to have been wise and generally correct about things (such as Jesus
, Abraham Lincoln
, or Albert Einstein
Oftentimes, the historical figure is someone you wouldn't expect
would agree with you, thereby proving your point and showing just how cool they were
A common variant is to have the person being quoted turn out to be somebody commonly considered one of history's greatest monsters (such as Adolf Hitler
). In this situation, the person agreeing with the idea is shamed
by showing that they are in agreement with a person they consider despicable
. This often combines with a Strawman Political
situation, since it reduces their real position to be synomynous with that of the bad figure, even if the resemblance is only superficial at best. See Godwin's Law
for more information.
Occasionally, the same thing is used in an opposite manner; to show that, just because an evil person agreed with it, doesn't mean it's wrong. Sometimes, the person doing the quoting is actually pointing out that the other
person agrees with someone considered despicable, to illustrate the universality of the idea. After all, even Hitler thought that walking upright was a pretty good idea. This is mainly used to show that the technique is rhetorical rather than logical. Appeal To Authority
, if the authority isn't an expert in the field, or Hitler Ate Sugar
if Hitler himself is used for the shame job.
Played straight, this can be an elaborate biographical snapshot, where it's revealed that the subject is a historical figure (good or bad) whose origin and backstory
are often overlooked.
These sort of anecdotes are often greatly entertaining, although be aware that the narrator
may be sensationalizing
the facts to justify his own theory of what this person actually believed. Other times, however, It's All True
There's also the little matter of the person missing the point - pointing out someone who approved or disapproved of a notion fails to explain why exactly that notion is a good one or a bad one. The implication is usually that the person being quoted knows what he or she is talking about. More often, though, it's an Appeal To Authority
or an Association Fallacy
and the person quoting them (or the author) is failing at logic
See also What Do You Mean, It's Not Symbolic?
. For another type of meaningful concealed character, see ...And That Little Girl Was Me
open/close all folders
- A chapter of Runaways has Nico go into a church and quote the Bible to a priest, who immediately assumes that she is a New Age goth until she reveals the source of her quotation.
- In Star Trek: First Contact, Will Riker, attempting to inspire a young Zefram Cochrane, tells him "Don't try to be a great man. Just be a man, and let history make its own judgment." When Cochrane, annoyed by the triteness of the proverb, asks him who said that, Riker replies "You did, ten years from now." (This possibly creates a Stable Time Loop.)
- In the 2004 Starsky & Hutch movie, we get this bit of dialogue:
: Dig this man. Someone once said: "To err is human, to forgive divine." Hutch
: Tch. What idiot said that? Huggy Bear
: I believe that was God
- the greatest mack of all
- In a later scene, it is attributed to be from William Shakespeare, when actually the quote derives from Alexander Pope.
- Max starring a young art student named Hitler and his idealistic mentor/sponsor Max Rothman is an entire movie built around this trope. It's also the subject of one of Paul Harvey's stories.
- The Life Of David Gale invokes Godwin's Law with this. The film revolves around a university teacher and political activist who is firmly against capital punishment. During a political debate, he baits his opponent like this:
David Gale: So, basically, you feel, to choose another quote, 'society must be cleansed of elements which represent its own death.'
Governor Hardin: Well, yes. I'd have to agree. Did I say that too?
David Gale: No, that was Hitler.
- In Gladiator, Emperor Commodus and Maximus have a final 'brotherly' moment before their duel in the arena. Commodus mocks Maximus' lack of fear for his own death, and Maximus tells his enemy that someone once told him "Death smiles at us all. All we can do is smile back". Commodus wonders whether the friend did so at his own death, and Maximus replies that out of anyone, Commodus should know. The man was Marcus Aurelius, the father he murdered.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation. Jean-Luc Picard, facing a Witch Hunt of a hearing, quotes the investigator's father speaking out against just such actions. The prosecutor takes the usage of her idolized father's quote against her so poorly that the admiral presiding over the trial leaves immediately and dismisses all charges.
- Tales from the Crypt:
- There was an episode wherein the antagonist, a corrupt mortician, is constantly doing this with the Bible. For example, at one point he says, "Like the Bible says, 'Penny saved, penny earned.'" He is told that the quotation is actually from Benjamin Franklin. Later in the episode the same formula is inverted by the same character against him in a cruelly ironic way.
- There was another episode with a young thug (who may be undead) who does the same thing with the quotes of various religions. For instance, at one point he attributes "first come, first serve" to Buddha Guatama.
- This is wonderfully discussed in a The West Wing episode where the President takes apart a woman who made her radio career on this type of thing.
Bartlet: I like your show. I like how you call homosexuality an abomination.
Dr. Jenna Jacobs: I don't say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr. President, the Bible does.
Bartlet: Yes it does. Leviticus.
Bartlet: Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I have you here. I'm interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She's a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? While thinking about that, can I ask another? My Chief of Staff Leo McGarry insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says that he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police? Here's one that's really important because we've got a lot of sports fans in this town: touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean. Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads? Think about these questions, would you? One last thing: While you may be mistaking this for your monthly meeting of the Ignorant Tight-Ass Club, in this building, when the President stands, nobody sits.
- In an episode of Red Dwarf, Lister asks, "Wasn't it Descartes who said, 'I am what I am'?" to which Rimmer replies, "No, it was Popeye the sailor man." Later in the same episode, Lister gives the quote again, attributing it to Popeye. Kryten says that he always thought it was Descartes, and Lister replies, "Me too, man. It's so easy to get those two dudes mixed up."
- In Slings and Arrows, Sanjay has a habit of making up quotes that support his (totally absurd) claims, and attributing them to Richard Nixon.
- In an episode of the short-lived family sitcom Movie Stars, the boy (who goes to a school for child actors and kids of actors) gets in trouble with the principal for a bunch of minor infractions, including calling it "Puke-anan" (rather than "Buchanan") High. At the end, they make up, and the principal tells him, "In fact, you know who coined the nickname "Puke-anan," back when he was a student here?" "You, sir?" the boy replies. "No," the principal says. "Harvey Keitel."
- The Roy Zimmerman song "That is the War on Terror" uses this, referring to a 'great quote about war': "Now, who said that...? Oh that's right, it was Hermann Goering."
Mythology and Religion
- Biblical quotes are often used in this context, as a number of passages are either interpreted or taken out of context to indicate approval of things such as fundamentalist theocracy, slavery, misogyny, and violence towards children, which are not considered appropriate in most modern societies. This leads to people of every position on the Bible and Christianity to accuse everyone with other positions or interpretations of taking things out of context for every quote. So common it's called "proof-texting" in Christian circles.
Common examples are "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" in the context of separation of church and state or paying taxes, and "Love your enemies" in the context of pacifism (both uttered by Jesus). Louis Blanc derived the slogan "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" from a passage in Acts, chapter 2, which was more famously reproduced by Karl Marx, though in reference to only the higher phase of socialism, as he supported labor vouchers being used in the 'lower phase' of socialism, while Louis Blanc intended it to describe an immediate post-revolutionary situation. Annoyingly, Karl Marx didn't even quote correctly, his line is derived from Acts 4:32: "The believers had all things in common, giving to anyone who had need." Around the same time, anarcho-socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon wrote the book What Is Property? with an answer within it that "property is theft," thus coining the well-known political slogan. Among the influences he cites at the front of the book is "Jesus Christ", based on the same quote.
- Count Down With Keith Olbermann loves to do this, usually pointing out that a right-winger is going against himself, Ronald Reagan, or Republican leaders, or is paralleling (or mischaracterizing) Hitler, Chamberlain, Stalin, McCarthy, and that merry crew.
- A popular chain e-mail offers the reader a choice in leaders between a pair of lazy, womanising drunkards and a chaste war hero. After you read further along, you discover that the drunkards were Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, and the war hero was Adolf Hitler. This is actually inaccurate, as Hitler had a girlfriend and Churchill was extremely loyal to his wife. (But he was a drunkard.)
- There's also the anti-abortion argument in the same link, which paints a squalid picture of a mother of a huge family riddled with health problems and no father mentioned, and then "reveals" that the last potential child is Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven was the third child of professional-class parents, wealthy enough to give him an extensive musical education, and only a few of his siblings even survived infancy.
- Parodied on The Daily Show in a segment where Stephen Colbert plays a pundit who thinks the media has a responsibility during wartime to report only encouraging nationalistic stories.
It was Thomas Jefferson
himself who said, "Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach." Jon Stewart:
said that. That was Stalin. Jefferson said he'd rather have a free press and no government than a government and no free press. Stephen Colbert:
Well, what can you expect from a slave-banging, Hitler-loving queer?
- The former Trope Namer was the last line of Paul Harvey's "Rest of the Story" series, wherein Harvey tells a long story of someone whose true identity he hides until the very end: "And now you know...The Rest of the Story!"
- Hitler Ate Sugar fail from Fundies Say the Darndest Things:
Here are two official slogans or mottos. As I rehearse them for you, ask yourself where these originated.
"Politics do not belong in the church."
"The church must be separate from the state."
- (None of which is remotely true: Hitler forcibly amalgamated the Catholic and Lutheran churches into one government-controlled Reich church, persecuting any dissenting clergy, such as Martin Niemoller or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, along with entire minority groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses. So basically the opposite).
- On the other side of the debate, Hitler's opinions on atheism:
- "Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without religious foundation is built on air; consequently all character training and religion must be derived from faith..."
- "We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out." (Hitler really did shut down atheist organizations in Germany, and state-sponsored prayer in schools was firmly entrenched). Note these quotes aren't offered to debunk opponents of church-state separation due to an Association Fallacy, but the specific claim of "Hitler was an atheist, thus atheism is wrong."
- One which has been linked to on this site is a page comparing Al Gore quotes to those of the Unabomber.
- In one of the video fanfics that grew out of the I'm a Marvel... And I'm a DC parody commercials, the Joker, trying to explain his motives, asks Batman who it was who said "Better to reign in hell than serve in Heaven." Batman points out that he's quoting the Devil.
- That big quote from The West Wing? Every discussion forum that's ever argued the toss on LGBT rights has had someone quote it.
- In the South Park episode, Damien, Stan gives Jesus the "Don't try to be a great man. Just be a man, and let history make its own judgment." quote to encourage him before his fight with Satan. When Jesus asks who said it, Stan tells him he (Jesus) did. Stan later admits that he just heard the quote on Star Trek.
- Edward R. Murrow did this against Senator McCarthy, as seen in Good Night, and Good Luck., regarding a quote from Julius Caesar.
- An experiment carried out during the McCarthy days had people refusing to sign a document consisting of quotes from the Declaration of Independence and Constitution... out of fear it would have them marked as a Communist.note
- Occasionally, reporters pull this stunt for a quick story on how poorly modern US citizens understand their founding documents. It's all quotes with most people, not concepts.
- Many quotes by Hitler are commonly used - Hitler approved of vegetarianism (although contrary to popular belief, did not follow it himself), animal rights, urban renewal (although that may not have been such a good idea), gun control, and many other popular political stances wholly unconnected to the one he is remembered for (genocidal racist imperialism). One notable example is the following passage recited in the movie Billy Jack:
"The streets in our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might, and our Republic is in danger — yes, danger from within and without. We need law and order. Without law and order, our nation cannot survive."
- This quotation was also recited by Yoko Ono when performing with John Lennon in the 1970s, in order to draw parallels with the current political situation in the US.
- The book They Never Said It questions this one: the students rebelling at the time were mostly Young Nazis objecting to Jewish professors.
- Done to chilling effect in The Wave, a Based on a True Story account of a teacher who inadvertently kicked off a Nazi-esque movement in his school — initially, he'd planned to show how anyone could get suckered into Nazi propaganda. It worked a little too well.
- Hitler's underling Hermann Goering uttered a phrase which has often been used in this sense, especially in recent years:
"Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."
- A history professor once read a series of speeches to the general approval of his generally left-leaning students, only to reveal at the end that the speeches were given by Benito Mussolini. Similar to the MGS example above, the goal was not to condemn left wing politics but merely to prove that fascism was not a right-wing philosophy (which it actually is... ish. The whole left-right dichotomy kind of breaks down when the people in charge aren't even paying lip-service to democracy.)
- The Italian Fascist movement was defined by, and in 1918-20 rose on the basis of, its violentnote anti-leftism. Ideologically, Fascism was never a very coherent movement, even after it was consolidated under the Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF). In practice, Fascist policy had nothing to do with Fascist ideology - Mussolini and his allies within the Party (he didn't have absolute control over the Fascist Party) never let the latter get in the way of their own goals. In practice, Fascism was a nationalistic party-led populistnote movement defined in opposition to revolutionary socialism. It was not a 'conservative' or 'right-wing' movement, because at the time both labels meant (support for) a regime based upon the aristocracy and (upper-)middle class - Italy only got universal manhood suffrage in 1918, when before only the middle- and upper-classes could vote. These days, 'right-wing' politics is expected to involve the entire population and not just the land-owning or middle classes, so it makes sense that in retrospect we should view Fascism as being merely right-wing.
- Benito Mussolini was also a socialist earlier in his life.