A misquotation is an accidental or intentional misrepresentation of a person's speech or writing, involving one or more of:
- Omission of important context: The context can be important for determining the overall argument the quoted person wanted to make, for seeing whether the quoted statement was restricted or even negated in this context, or for recognizing hints that it was meant as irony.
- Omission of important parts of the quote.
- Insertion of allegedly implied words or partial sentences: The inserted portions may be specially marked (e.g. by square brackets or cursive font). Using unmarked insertions is commonly deprecated. In order to constitute a misquotation, the implied portions must alter the meaning of the quote in a way that the original author did not obviously intend.
- Incorrect rephrasing: The quote is replaced by one which is only superficially identical in meaning, or one or more of the words in the quotation have been replaced by incorrect ones.
- Misattribution: Attributing someone else's (or no one's in particular) words to a person who did not use them. Misattribution is often found in satire.
- Misspelling, although usually inadvertent, can sometimes be used deliberately, especially with satirical intent, to portray the quoted person as stupid or uneducated.
The following causes are mostly responsible for misquotations:
- Imperfect reproduction, e.g. from memory, in communication or by transcription. Gossip, which involves many consecutive memorizations and mouth-to-mouth communications, can quickly 'mutate' a quote beyond recognition. In those cases, only the 'kernel' of the quote is held while the rest is omitted or simplified.
- Misunderstanding, if the person using the quote misjudges the importance of context, partial sentences, or inserts an invalid implication.
- Malice or deliberate deceit (Quote mining).
- Humor or satire.
A particuliar case of misattribution is the Matthew effect: a quotation is often attributed to someone more famous than the real author. This leads the quotation to be more famous, but the real author to be forgotten.
An example of imperfect and indeliberate reproduction is Darth Vader
's quote "No, I
am your father" referring to a previous dialogue with Luke Skywalker
in the movie Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
. Although a famous and reproducible quote, by itself it does not have much meaning, since "No" refers to a previous unconnected phrase. The emphasis I
also corrects a previously said mistake. Also, the phrase doesn't give information to whom it is addressed. The result was to be 'simplified' and 'completed' as "Luke, I am your father" as it was later well-known.