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List of misquotations

A famous misquotation is a well-known phrase attributed to someone who either did not actually say it in that form of words, or did not say it at all.

It may not be known how these phrases came about, but when possible, their type of origin is noted in this way:

  • [P] Parody or satire of the original.
  • [C] A corruption or mistranslation of the original phrase, possibly accidental, which became better known than the original.
  • [M] A deliberate misquoting or made-up quote intended to discredit the alleged speaker.
  • [A] Attributed to a well-known person to improve the appearance of the phrase or the person.

Famous misquotations of actual persons

  • "The British are coming!" – Paul Revere [C]
    • Revere's mission depended on secrecy and the countryside was filled with British army patrols; also, most colonial residents at the time considered themselves British. The quotation is more likely based on (although not taken verbatim from) the later famous poem "Paul Revere's Ride".
  • "The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash." – Winston Churchill [M]
    • Churchill's assistant, Anthony Montague-Browne said that. Although Churchill had not uttered these words, he later admitted that he wished he had.
  • "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." ("Je désapprouve ce que vous dites, mais je défendrai à la mort votre droit à le dire") — Voltaire [A]
    • This line comes from the book Friends of Voltaire (1907) by Evelyn Beatrice Hall. It resembles the actual quote "Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too" from Voltaire's Essay on Tolerance
  • "If they have no bread, let them eat cake!" ("S'ils n'ont plus de pain, qu’ils mangent de la brioche.") — Marie Antoinette [M or A]
    • The original quote comes from Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions: "I recalled the make-shift of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread and who replied: ‘Let them eat brioche’. " ("Je me rappelai le pis-aller d’une grande princesse à qui l’on disait que les paysans n’avaient pas de pain, et qui répondit, qu’ils mangent de la brioche. "). He was referring to an incident in Grenoble, 1740, ten years before Marie Antoinette was born. It has been speculated that he was actually writing of Maria Theresa of Spain or one of various other aristocrats though no evidence has ever been offered for this. In the meantime, Marie Antoinette's attribution to the quote was current in her time in antiroyalist propaganda, most likely to hasten her way to the guillotine (An Underground Education, Richard Zacks, 1997).
  • "I cannot tell a lie. It was I who chopped down the cherry tree." — George Washington [A]
    • Washington never said this statement, allegedly made when his father asked who had cut the tree. The cherry tree story was actually written in the 1800s by biographer Parson Weems and the tree was not "chopped down" in it.
  • Nice guys finish last.” Leo Durocher (1906–1991), US baseball manager.[C]
    • As reported in the biography, Nice Guys Finish Last, (by Leo Durocher, with Ed Linn, Simon & Schuster, 1975), Durocher’s remark was his reply to being asked his opinion of the 1946 New York Giants. He actually said “Take a look at them. All nice guys. They’ll finish last. Nice guys - finish last.” Elision of the subordinate conjunction in the final sentence turned an evaluation into a declaration that nice people are doomed to failure.
  • "Judy, Judy, Judy!" — Cary Grant [P]
    • Grant never actually said that phrase in any of his movies. In Only Angels Have Wings, his character says "Oh, Judy," and "Come on, Judy," but that's as close as it gets.
  • "Houston, we have a problem." [C]
    • This is a misstatement of the actual communication between the Apollo 13 astronauts and Mission Control in Houston immediately after the explosion that aborted the intended mission. According to the transcript, (at 02 days, 07 hours, 55 minutes, 19 seconds), Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise starting a sentence "OK, Houston..." which was cut off by Commander Jim Lovell saying "I believe we've had a problem here.", followed fifteen seconds later by Lovell's "Houston, we've had a problem. We've had a main B bus undervolt." The popularization of this misquote is partly due to the film Apollo 13, which used it in the film, and in its promotional materials. Brian Grazer knew of its inaccuracy, but used it anyway in an example of taking dramatic license.
  • "Football isn't a matter of life or death, it's much more important than that." — Bill Shankly [C]
    • The real quotation was said by Liverpool F.C. manager Bill Shankly in 1981 on a Granada Television talk show called 'Live from Two' hosted by Shelley Rohde, and it was "Someone said 'football is more important than life and death to you' and I said 'Listen, it's more important than that'."
  • Media reports stated that Al Gore claimed he "invented the Internet." — Al Gore [C,M]
  • "There's a sucker born every minute" — P.T. Barnum [M]
    • After interviewing those who Barnum knew, a biographer found that it would be uncharacteristic for Barnum to say.
  • "Anything that can go wrong, will" (and variations on this theme) — Edward A. Murphy, Jr. [C]
    • Actual quote uncertain. Variously, "If that guy has any way of making a mistake, he will" and "If there's more than one way to do a job, and one of those ways will result in disaster, then somebody will do it that way". Murphy's law has been purposely misrepresented and sometimes simply misinterpreted to mean "something will always go wrong" or "nothing will ever work perfectly". This is actually a statement of Sod's Law. Murphy's Law is really a design principle: if something can be done in more than one way (such as inserting a two-socket plug the wrong way around), somebody will eventually do it. The solution is to design defensively - if the plug is asymmetrical, it simply can't be plugged in the wrong way around. There is evidence that Murphy himself didn't mean it this way when he said it, for more details, read the complete article.
  • "Money is the root of all evil." — Jesus Christ, the Bible [C]
    • 1 Timothy 6:10 (attributed to Paul, not Jesus) reads, "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (King James Version). Like the English word "all", the Koine word πᾶν (the form used in this verse is πάντων) can have different meanings according to context. Among other meanings, it can be used refer to absolutely all of something (e.g., John 1:3), a large quantity of something (e.g., Matthew 3:5), or every type of something (e.g., Luke 11:42). Most modern translations remove the ambiguity by rendering the expression: "all kinds of evil" (or equivalent), preferring the third meaning listed above.
  • "The only two certainties in life are death and taxes." — Mark Twain [C]
  • "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." (or similar) — Mark Twain [C]
    • Actual quotation: "The report of my death is an exaggeration." In 1897 a journalist was sent to inquire after Twain's health, thinking he was near to death; in fact it was his cousin who was very ill. Twain recounted the event in the New York Journal of June 2, 1897. Contrary to popular belief, his obituary was not prematurely published.
  • "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." — Philip Sheridan [M]
    • Actual quotation is said to be "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead," though Sheridan denied ever saying it.
  • "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." — Lord Acton [C]
    • Actual quotation: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".
  • "Gild the lily" — William Shakespeare, King John [C]
    • Actual quotation: "To gild refined gold, to paint the lily"
  • "The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic." — Joseph Stalin [M]
    • This quotation has popularly been attributed to Stalin, but, at this stage, there is no clear evidence as to whether it is genuine or not.
  • "Et tu, Brute?" — Julius Caesar [C]
    • Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar has Caesar saying these Latin words, meaning "Even you, Brutus?"; a similar quotation is mentioned by Suetonius, but in Greek ("καί σύ τέκνον?" meaning "Even you, my son?") rather than Latin. However, there is no evidence that Julius Caesar actually uttered these words.
  • "You forgot Poland." — George W. Bush [C]
    • Actual quotation: "Well, actually, he forgot Poland." (about John Kerry)
  • "We are going to build the Tories out of London." — Herbert Morrison [M]
    • Though widely attributed, no evidence has been found that Morrison said any such thing. The Local Government Chronicle offered a reward for anyone who could source the quotation.
  • "We are the masters now." — Hartley Shawcross [C]
    • Actual quotation: "We are the masters at the moment and shall be for some considerable time." In a 1945 debate to repeal the Conservatives' "Trade Disputes Act" of 1927 this followed a quotation from Through the Looking-Glass in which Humpty-Dumpty observed that the question of definitions of words depended upon who was master.
  • "Crisis? What Crisis?" — attributed to British Prime Minister James Callaghan [P]
    • "Crisis? What Crisis?" — was the headline in The Sun on January 11, 1979. Callaghan had been asked what his policy was in view of the 'mounting chaos' and replied "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 Sun may have taken the phrase from the title of an album by Supertramp released in 1975.
  • "The ends justify the means." — Niccolò Machiavelli [C]
  • "Billions and billions." — Carl Sagan [P]
    • Carl Sagan insisted for years he never said it, as he explained in the first chapter of his book Billions & Billions, it was far too vague of an expression. The quotation actually comes from Johnny Carson's impersonation of Carl Sagan.
  • "To get rich is glorious." — Deng Xiaoping [C]
    • Innumerable newspapers and other publications have attributed this quotation to the late Chinese leader. It's supposed to be Deng's exhortation to the Chinese people at the start of his reforms. However, no one has ever been able to find an original source of this. See this Los Angeles Times article by Evelyn Iritani
  • "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." — Benjamin Franklin [A]
    • A phrase commonly attributed to Franklin. This quotation is an excerpt from a letter written in 1755 from the Assembly to the Governor of Pennsylvania, and it may or may not have originated from Franklin. See Those who would give up Essential Liberty.
  • "Pride comes before a fall." [C]
    • Actual quote: "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." From the Book Of Proverbs, chapter 16, verse 18, The Bible, King James Version. The quote is a part of The Beatles' song "I'm a Loser": "(And so it's true,) pride comes before a fall."
  • "I have seen the future, and it works." [M]
  • "I fear that all we have done is awakened a sleeping giant, and filled him with a terrible resolve." [A]
    • Attributed to Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who is shown saying this in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!. He probably said nothing of the kind, although it reflected his sentiment in general terms.
  • "Can't we all just get along?" – Rodney King [C]
    • His actual quotation, in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, was "People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?"
  • "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." – Neil Armstrong [C]
    • Many people believe this is a famous misquotation, but it's actually a famous misspoken statement. The actual statement that Armstrong spoke when he first set foot on the moon was, in fact, missing an a before man. Without the a, the words man and mankind are interchangeable, thus obscuring the contrast between the two clauses of Armstrong's intended statement. At the time, NASA attempted to explain the missing article as having been lost in the original transmission due to the limitations of the technology of the time, which led to the common belief that Armstrong has been misquoted. There have been recent attempts (in 2006) to reveal the missing a through digital analysis of the audio recording, but the reports of the analysis have not been peer-reviewed. Explained at Snopes.com
  • "You, sir, are no Jack Kennedy." — U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 1988, to his opponent, Senator Dan Quayle, during a debate [C]
  • "Astrology is a science in itself and contains an illuminating body of knowledge. It taught me many things, and I am greatly indebted to it. Geophysical evidence reveals the power of the stars and the planets in relation to the terrestrial. In turn, astrology reinforces this power to some extent. This is why astrology is like a life-giving elixir to mankind." – Albert Einstein in the Huters astrologischer Kalender [A]
    • Actually, Einstein had very negative thoughts about astrology.
  • "... the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field..." — John Facenda, the famous voice of NFL Films (the official film production company of the National Football League) [A]
    • Steve Sabol, current president of NFL Films, denies that Facenda ever used the phrase. It is believed that the phrase was popularized by ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman, who frequently uttered it while trying to imitate Facenda's distinctive voice.
  • "Hey Ram"Mahatma Gandhi (last words)
    • Gandhi's memorial (or Samādhi) at Rāj Ghāt, New Delhi, bears the epigraph "Hē Ram", (Devanagari: हे ! राम or, He ), which may be translated as "Oh God". These are widely believed to be Gandhi's last words after he was shot, though the veracity of this statement has been disputed.
  • "Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one." — Charles J Sykes [A]
    • incorrectly attributed to Microsoft founder Bill Gates possibly because he is frequently described as being well aware of his nerdiness.
  • "Nul points" - Eurovision Song Contest [C]
    • The French phrase is often attributed to the annual Eurovision Song Contest in the media and elsewhere, most notably in the episode of Father Ted, "Song for Europe". However, only points from one to twelve (un - douze) are given during the song contest.
  • "Israel must be wiped off the face of the map." – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
    • Ahmadinejad's statement literally translated says that "the Zionist regime should be wiped from the page of time" (بايد از صفحه روزگار محو شود). According to Juan Cole, a University of Michigan Professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History, Ahmadinejad's statement should be translated as: The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem (een rezhim-e eshghalgar-e qods) must [vanish from] the page of time (bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad).
  • "Only the dead have seen the end of war" – Plato
    • Attributed to Plato by General Douglas MacArthur in his farewell address to the cadets at West Point, but this quote cannot be found in any work of Plato.
  • "Hello, my name is Michael Caine" – Michael Caine
    • He never actually said this although in 1983, Caine was given the line to say as an in-joke in the film Educating Rita.
    • The line was parodied in Harry Enfield's Television Programme by Paul Whitehouse, who introduced himself with the line "My name is Michael Paine, and I am a nosey neighbour."
    • "My name is Michael Caine" - This line was recorded by Michael Caine for the single "Michael Caine" by the British music group Madness in 1984.
  • "Well, Here's another fine mess you've gotten me into." - Oliver Hardy [C]
    • The version of the phrase often used by Hardy was the line "Here's another nice mess you've gotten me into." The now better known corruption of the phrase most likely comes from the title of the Laurel and Hardy short film Another Fine Mess.

Famous misquotations of fictional persons

  • "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well." — Hamlet, by William Shakespeare [C]
    • Actual quote: "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy."
  • "All that glitters is not gold." – The Prince of Morocco in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare [C]
  • "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" — Perez in Mourning Bride, by William Congreve [C]
    • Actual quote: "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."
  • "Just the facts, Ma'am." — Jack Webb as Sgt. Friday on Dragnet. [C]
    • Actual quote: "All we want are the facts, ma'am." The famous quote comes from 1953 recording by satirist Stan Freberg — a recording called "St. George and the Dragonet", which was a Dragnet spoof.
  • "Zulus. Thousands of 'em." - from the 1964 film Zulu [C]
    • Actual quote: "Sentries have come in from the hills, Mr Bromhead, sir.." (he then has to direct his report Lt Chard and concludes) "The sentries report Zulus to the south west. Thousands of them". It was not said by Michael Caine's character Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, but by Colour Sgt.Bourne [Nigel Green] to Lt Chard [Stanley Baker]
  • "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." — John Wayne in Hondo [P]
    • Actual quote: "A man ought'a do what he thinks is best."
  • "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do — Alan Ladd in Shane [P]
    • Combination of two actual quotes from the film Joe:"I couldn't do what I gotta do if I hadn't always knowed that I could trust ya" and later, Shane: "A man has to be what he is."
  • "Me Tarzan, you Jane" - was a catchphrase inaccurately quoted from Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932)
  • "Beam me up, Scotty." — William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek [C]
    • Actual quote used in Star Trek IV: "Scotty, beam me up," although the misquote had been in circulation for years before that. A number of similar phrases have been said by the various characters, but never in this exact wording.
  • "Dammit, Jim! I'm a doctor, not a..." Dr. Leonard McCoy on Star Trek [P].
    • On the TV series, the expletive dammit was never uttered by McCoy preceding this phrase.
  • "Play it again, Sam." — Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca [C]
    • Actual quote: Ingrid Bergman's character Ilsa Lund said "Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By" first; later, Rick says "You played it for her, you can play it for me!" The phrase "Play It Again, Sam" is the title of a Woody Allen movie about a man who's a huge fan of Casablanca.
  • "Oooh, you dirty rat!" — James Cagney [C]
    • Actual quote: "Mmm, that dirty, double-crossin' rat," in 1931's Blonde Crazy.
  • "Top of the world, Ma!" — James Cagney as Cody Jarrett. [C]
    • Actual quote: "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" from the finale of 1949's White Heat.
  • "Elementary, my dear Watson." — Sherlock Holmes [C]
    • The complete phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson" does not appear in any of the 60 Holmes stories written by Doyle. It appears for the first time at the very end of the 1929 film The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
  • "No, Luke, I am your father." — Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back [C]
  • "Badges? We don't need no steenking badges!" — from the film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre [C]
  • "We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto" or "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto." — Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) from the film The Wizard of Oz [C]
    • Actual quote: "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
  • "Do you feel lucky, punk?" — Dirty Harry. [C]
    • Actual quote: "...you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"
  • "Throw another shrimp on the barbie" — Paul Hogan in a series of Australian Tourist Commission commercials on American TV. [C]
    • Actual quote: "I'll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you."
  • "Hello, Clarice." — Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. [C]
    • Actual quote: "Good evening, Clarice."
    • This quote did appear in the movie Hannibal.
  • "Why don't you come up and see me sometime?" — Mae West as Lady Lou in the film She Done Him Wrong. [C]
    • Actual quote: "Why don't you come up some time, and see me?"
    • In I'm No Angel West's character says "Come up and see me sometime" so this is not much of a misquotation.
  • "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille." — Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard [C]
    • Actual quote: "All right, Mr. De Mille, I'm ready for my close-up."
  • "Get off your horse and drink your milk." — a character played by John Wayne. [C]
    • He never said it in any of his movies.
  • "Oh no, Mr. Bill!" - Mr. Bill skit from Saturday Night Live. [C]
    • Actual quote: "Oh no!"
    • What makes this corrupted quote strange is that Mr. Bill was the one who always said "Oh no!"
  • "Would you like to play a game?" — WOPR, through its "Joshua" program, in the 1983 movie WarGames. [C]
    • Actual quote: "Shall we play a game?"
  • "I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like victory" - Col. Kilgore in Apocalypse Now. [C]
    • Kilgore's actual speech is several sentences longer than this version. The "smell of napalm" sentence is contained verbatim in the speech, which actually ends, "it smelled like... victory."
  • "Why Can't I Quit You?" - Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain [P]
    • This phrase is often used on the Russ Parr Morning Show by the host during his parodies of the movie. The actual line from the movie is "I wish I knew how to quit you."
  • "The goggles, they do nothing!" — Rainier Wolfcastle, in The Simpsons [C]
    • Actual quote: "My eyes! The goggles do nothing!"
  • "With great power comes great responsibility" — Benjamin Parker, in Spider-Man
    • The often-quoted Spider-Man theme of "with great power comes great responsibility" is widely attributed to Uncle Ben. However, this was not initially true. In Amazing Fantasy #15, the phrase appears in a narrative caption in the comic's last panel, not as spoken dialogue. In fact, Ben has only two lines in the entire comic.
      However, later stories and flashbacks that took place when Ben was still alive retroactively made the phrase one of Ben's many homilies he would lecture Peter with. Recent reinterpretations of Spider-Man, such as the Spider-Man movie and the Ultimate Spider-Man comic, depict Ben as using this phrase while he is still alive.
  • "Bite the fucking curb!" or "Bite the curb, motherfucker!" - Derek Vinyard, in American History X [C]
    • Actual Quote: "Put your fucking mouth on the curb! Put it on the curb right now!"
  • "Just follow your heart. That's what I do." - Napoleon Dynamite [C]
    • Actual Quote: "Pedro, just listen to your heart. That's what I do."
  • "I've been slimed!" - Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) in Ghostbusters[C]
    • Actual Quote: "He slimed me."
  • "Fly, my pretties! Fly!" -The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz [c]
    • Actual Quote: "Fly! Fly! Fly!"
  • "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get" in the film Forrest Gump, 1994.
    • Actual Quotes (2):
    • (1)"Life is a box of chocolates..." by Forrest's mother
    • (2)"My momma always said that life was like a box of chocolates..." by Forrest
    • Thus, Forrest's mother says a present tense metaphor "Life is..."
    • And, Forrest says a subjunctive simile "Life was like..."
    • But, no present tense simile "Life is like" exists anywhere in the film
  • "Greed is good." - Gordon Gekko, Wall Street [C]
    • Actual quote is longer: "The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good.
  • "The world will look up and shout 'save us,' and I'll whisper 'no.'" - Rorschach, Watchmen [C]
    • Actual Quote: "The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout 'save us!'...and I'll look down and whisper 'no.'" This misquotation was further popularized when Rorschach says it in the trailer for the film adaptation of the graphic novel.
  • "And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those meddling kids." - various Scooby Doo villains upon being caught, [C] [P]
    • Actual Quote: The above is actually a pastiche of various lines from various villains put together. Some villains do not utter any parts of the phrase. Some villains remain silent. The above line was used in a Direct TV commercial using the Scooby Doo characters, however.

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