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Historical Character Confusion

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Bob Howard: You heard of Alan Turing? The father of programming?
Peter-Fred Young: Didn't he work for John Carmack?
Bob: [thinking] Oh, it's another world out there.

This trope is when somebody mistakes one historical figure for someone else (or, sometimes, for a fictional character), despite the two having little or nothing in common, exemplifying their lack of intelligence. In speculative fiction settings it may also result from the fog of history getting the information muddled.

The source of confusion varies. Maybe the names sound alike (Vladimir Lenin and John Lennon), or their fields are tangentially related (Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein), or the more contemporary figure is a reference to the older (Michelangelo Buonarroti the painter and Michelangelo the turtle).

Contrast Artistic License – History, which is when the author gets something like this confused. Compare Historical Hilarity and Wrongfully Attributed. A common form of In-Universe Factoid Failure.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • This line from the Pokémon: The Original Series episode "Haunter Vs. Kadabra";
    Jessie: Oh, James, this is the greatest discovery since Einstein invented the light bulb!

    Comic Books 
  • One issue of Rat-Man that parodied Star Trek had the same gag as the Family Guy episode listed below: it began with a commemoration of the first man on the moon, but when the speaker starts talking about "his beautiful music" it becomes clear that they're talking about Louis (and not Neil) Armstrong.
  • A character in Transmetropolitan who has a very shaky grasp of 20th century history tries to tell another, similarly ignorant character who Adolf Hitler was. Among other things, he thinks Hitler blew up Auckland (a city in New Zealand) during the Blitz, and that Hitler played in Led Zeppelin, leading the other character to say that Hitler couldn't have been all bad then.

    Comic Strips 
  • Get Fuzzy: Satchel gets John Lennon mixed up with Vladimir Lenin at one point, leading him to watch one of Lenin's speeches and comment that the song "Revolution" was nothing like he thought it would be.

    Film — Animated 
  • Played with in The LEGO Movie - when Vitruvius is addressing the assembled Lego Master Builders (by name), he mentions "Michelangelo, Michelangelo...". The Renaissance artist and the Turtle are sitting next to each other. He also pronounces the former according to correct Italian pronunciation (Mick-el-angelo instead of Michael-angelo).

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Clerks II, Randall compares a guy in a wheelchair to Anne Frank, "The chick that was all duhhh, till the miracle worker showed up and knocked some smarts into her". Dante tries to correct him by saying that was Helen Keller and that Anne Frank hid from the Nazis and had a diary. Randall then says he was right all along because the wheelchair guy had a blog.
  • In The Big Lebowski, The Dude is struggling with a Vladimir Lenin quote ("You look for the person who will benefit...") which he cannot remember properly. Donny, trying to be helpful, starts quoting John Lennon's 1967 song "I Am the Walrus".
  • Facing the Giants: A Who's on First?-esque conversation involves, among other things, the speaker confusing Charles Schulz with the pilot Charles Lindbergh (then him with the Hindenburg). He's clearly joking, though, to mess with The Comically Serious coach trying to correct him.
  • An early scene in Tommy Boy has Tommy filling in the name "Herbie Hancock" on a history test question about the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. Later Tommy "corrects" someone who uses the term "John Hancock" for a signature.
  • In Idiocracy, Adolf Hitler has been replaced by Charlie Chaplin in the historical record, such as it is.

  • In The Laundry Files, the short story "Pimpf" has Bob get paired with an intern named Peter-Fred Young, a Neverwinter Nights modder who almost summoned an Eldritch Abomination with one of his scenarios. Bob tries to explain what the Laundry does, mentioning Alan Turing in the process. PFY apparently lacks computer history knowledge and thinks Turing worked for John Carmack (Turing died sixteen years before Carmack was born).
  • The Witchlands: Sightwitch reveals an In-Universe case of this: The popular song "Eridysi's Lament", named for the Famed in Story Sightwitch Eridysi Gochienka, and which consists of important prophecies, wasn't actually written by her, as she didn't actually have the Sight. It's a compilation of prophecies spoken by her stepdaughter Lisbet.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of Are You Being Served?, Mr Grainger comments that a plan the staff come up with to avoid starting work earlier sounds like something Bulldog Drummond would have come up with to defeat Oscar Peterson. It has to be pointed out to him that Oscar Peterson is a pianist, and that Bulldog Drummond's arch-nemesis was Carl Peterson.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has this exchange:
    Will: Malcolm's one of my heroes, too.
    Hilary: Oh, I idolize Malcolm! He's the only reason I watch The Cosby Show.
  • Gilmore Girls: A variation (one is a person, the other is an object). In “But Not as Cute as Pushkin” Rory is discussing what to do to impress a girl she has agreed to show around Yale with Lorelai and Richard. It leads to this exchange:
    Rory: Well, she’ll go to all my classes with me, of course. And I thought maybe she’d go to the paper with me and then I thought maybe a trip to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
    Richard: Oh, you’re going to show her the Gutenberg.
    Lorelai: Steve?
    Richard: Bible.
    Lorelai: Right.
  • In the Girl Meets World episode "Girl Meets Communism", Riley makes a mistake very similar to the page image. Maya of all people corrects her at the end, and it seems to be one of the reasons she rejects "grading Communism".
  • Horrible Histories: One Cliff Whiteley segment opens with Cliff on the phone telling a newspaper "Albert Einstein was the one with a theory of relativity. Frankenstein was the one with a monster. Now print an apology!"
  • Bill McNeal on NewsRadio. "Big Chief Custer? No, he scalped many palefaces that day."
  • In Red Dwarf, Rimmer notes that one of the people who was laughed at historically was Columbo. When Lister asks for clarification, Rimmer responds that he was "the man in the dirty mac who discovered America".

  • Done on purpose by The Firesign Theatre for their album How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All.
  • Some confusion existed, although given their relative contributions to musical excellence and that fact one was three decades dead, not for very long, between Jim Morrison and 2010's pop balladeer James Morrison.


    Tabletop Games 

  • In the musical adaptation of The Full Monty, the lines in "Big Ass Rock":
    "I've got a friend, like Carole King, or was it Carly Simon, used to sing, I always get those two confused, but anyway—I've got a friend."

    Video Games 
  • As revealed in Meet the Soldier, the Soldier of Team Fortress 2 attributes the story of Noah's ark to Sun Tzu instead:
    Soldier: Then [Sun Tzu] used his fight money to buy two of every animal on Earth, and then he herded them onto a boat, and then he beat the crap out of every single one! And from that day forward, any time a bunch of animals are gathered together in one place, it's called a zoo! (beat) Unless it's a farm!


    Web Original 
  • Conversed on Fundies Say the Darndest Things. One acquisition for their museum of stupid fundie quotes said the following:
    "Lennon, the founder of Russian Communism, said that if you tell a lie loud enough and often enough people will believe it."
  • Not Always Right has some examples from customers, especially of museums and historical sites, including this example. While the employee never figures out what the patron actually means, they don't, despite repeated insistence to the contrary, mean to say "Machiavelli." And he wasn't French either.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of American Dad!, Stan tries to encourage his son and says:
    "Just look at Helen Keller. Deaf, dumb and blind, and she wrote that whole diary in her little attic during World War II. She doesn't sound so dumb to me."
  • Histeria! had a character named Pepper Mills who would ask historical characters for their autograph, then realize that she had mistaken them for someone else.
  • Family Guy: In the song "You've Got a Lot to See", Brian sings to an old lady shut-in about all the things out in the world that she's missing. A group of wild rappers appear during the bridge listing events she's missed, including:
    Diane Simmons: Neil Armstrong landing on the moon.
    Meg: Neil Armstrong? Wait, was he that trumpet guy?
  • Even after meeting the historical Leonardo da Vinci, Fry from Futurama keeps confusing him with Leonardo DiCaprio.
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold: In "Cry Freedom Fighters!", Plastic Man mixes up Thomas Jefferson and George Jefferson, and refers to John Paul Jones and Ringo.
  • The Simpsons: In "Eeny Teeny Maya Moe", Marge phones Moe's and asks for Homer. Moe tries to cover by saying that he thought she was asking for Heimlich Himmler, the guy who invented the Heimlich maneuver note . When Marge says they are different people, Moe claims they are both in the tavern.
    "I'm Andre Agesi." "The wrestler?"
    • In "Bart the Genius", Homer thinks Albert Einstein invented the light bulb.
  • The Looney Tunes Show has a musical segment in which Lola sings about Presidents Day. She promptly lapses into naming celebrities instead. It's when she gets to Johnson that this trope comes into play. She passes a picture of both Johnsons and says that they aren't the ones she's referring to. Upon reaching a picture of "Magic" Johnson, she says "There he is!"
  • SheZow: Maz doesn't even come close in "Mr. Nice Guy":
    Maz: You're like that famous psychoanalyst: Dr. Jekyll!
    SheZow: You mean Dr. Freud.
    Maz: Yeah, her.

    Real Life 


Barbie Museum

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Main / HistoricalCharacterConfusion

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