Common misquotations

John Green from Mental Floss corrects 50 common misquotations. I must say, I’ve misquoted at least a dozen of these. Let’s not have any of these on this site, or at least any of these distorted or misattributed!


  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Phew, good thing I’ve filled my head mostly with Dirty Harry, Monty Python quotes and some cheeky things Caesar & Augustus said.

  2. hugh7
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    I do wonder at the use of a 7:49 video to say something that could be said as well in 100 lines of text – and more easily referenced.

    Who did say
    “First they laugh at you,
    Then they fight you,
    Then you win” ?

    I Googled it:

    Apparently labor leader Nicholas Klein in a 1914 address:

    General Executive Board Report and Proceedings [of The] Biennial Convention, Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America

    (To which I add
    “Then they say they were on your side the whole time.”)

    • Posted May 22, 2013 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

      Waffle is the plague of YouTube. I watched a video the other day on how to fix a browser problem in Windows 8. It took about 7 minutes of waffle going nowhere to communicate “click the reset button” (and even then he did not mention that you need to reboot after you click it).

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 22, 2013 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

      “I do wonder at the use of a 7:49 video to say something that could be said as well in 100 lines of text – and more easily referenced.”

      Exactly! I’d have liked to have known what those misquotations were, but not enough to spend nearly 8 minutes watching a vid.

  3. rosie
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    The interesting thing was what was in the backround of his house .Wanted to freeze it to not only stop listening to him but look closer at those things.

  4. Woody Benson
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    The University of California Museum of Paleontology site ( claims . . . that Ernst Haeckel coined the phrase “politics is applied biology” a quote used by Nazi propandists.” Can anyone confirmed either of these allegatons (the quote and its programmed use by Nazis)–, I haven´t, or is it just somebody using the Berkeley website to smear Haeckel?

    • maddoxflower
      Posted May 22, 2013 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

      Häckel said it, and the Nazis then used it. Here are the references that the German Wikipedia gives:
      Richard Langton Gregory: The Oxford companion to the mind, Oxford University Press, 2004, S. 385; Heinz Brücher, Karl Astel: Ernst Haeckels Bluts- und Geisteserbe: eine kulturbiologische Monographie, J. F. Lehmann, 1936, S. 9.

      • Woody Benson
        Posted May 23, 2013 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        Total Fail for maddoxflower.
        Gregory attributes “politics is applied biology” to Haeckel but does not give his source. As mentioned below, Heinz Brücher does not even cite it so far as I can ascertain. Wikipedia has been taken over by creationists, fundamentalists and other crazies in everything Haeckel and is even less trustworthy than usual. Until someone can give a source, the quote must be considered a fabrication despite the 27,900 hits on google.

    • Dominic
      Posted May 23, 2013 at 2:35 am | Permalink

      It would be grossly unfair to smear him as the Nazis were not around when he was alive, however his ideas were very much of his age & would be seen as racist today. Some of his works are freely available on Amazon – you could download for free & search the text.

      By the way, propaganda was a term invented by the Inquisition!

      • Woody Benson
        Posted May 23, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        @ Dominic: Thank you catching the spelling error.
        I have searched almost all the English translations of Haeckel’s works as well as a large number of quote sites for the source of “politics is applied biology,” and variations on it. However, I have found no trustworthy reference to Haeckel ever having made the statement.
        If someone thinks Haeckel was a proto-Nazi, he understands neither Haeckel nor the National Socialists.

        @ maddoxflower: I have checked your oldest secondary source (Heinz Brücher, 1936, “Ernst Haeckels Bluts- und Geisteserbe . . . etc.”) using a search for the word “applied” (“angewandte”) as in “Politics is applied Biology”. I got a hit; just one. The text given by google books is incomplete, but I think it is clear enough to leave no doubt as to what has happened.
        On page 9 Heinz Brücher writes “Der Staat selbst erfühlt heute im Bewusstsein, politisch angewandte Biologie zu sein, die lebensgesetzlichen Forderungen, die Ernst Haeckel zu seiner Zeit noch vergeblich an der Staatsführung . . . (end of the sentence cut off by google books)”
        My translantion: “Whereas today the state itself is conscious of being politically applied biology, which is the legal command of life, Ernst Haeckel in his time to no avail . . . ”
        Your source (or you?) seems to have quoted (badly at that) Nazi author Heinz Brücher and not Haeckel.

        maddoxflower, please present real evidence that “Häeckel said it,” for if Haeckel did not say it, the Nazi’s could not have adopted it from Haeckel’s sayings.
        By the way, are you by chance a paleologist at the University of California?

        Are there any other comers? Or can we conclude that the quote is a fabrication Haeckel haters?

        W. Benson

      • Posted May 23, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        “By the way, propaganda was a term invented by the Inquisition!”

        NOBODY would have expected that!

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 23, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Permalink


        • Dominic
          Posted May 24, 2013 at 1:38 am | Permalink


  5. marksolock
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  6. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    Just listened to the 1969 Moon Landing and Armstrong definitely said “One small step for man one giant leap for mankind”

    If your correcting miss-attributed quotes it pays to get it right.

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted May 22, 2013 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

      Apologies for embedding – thought i was just posting link 😦

    • Posted May 22, 2013 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

      If you listen carefully “man” sounds a little garbled and likely the “a” got lost in the transmission. See here for instance:

    • Marcoli
      Posted May 23, 2013 at 4:53 am | Permalink

      There had been a lot of attention paid to that quote, including audio analysis. A conclusion that came out of that was that Neil did say the ‘a’. But there is a blip of static just then and it is hard to hear normally.

      • Buzz
        Posted May 23, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

        Frankly, that analysis seems pretty weak. Armstrong’s own admission at the time was that he flubbed the line he’d been planning.

    • Posted May 23, 2013 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      I remember hearing it over the television when it happened. At that time, I recall hearing, “That’s one small step for a man, …”

      “…a man…”.

      It was the only turn of a phrase that made sense.

  7. Dominic
    Posted May 23, 2013 at 1:47 am | Permalink

    Not guilty. When I was a teenager & should have been reading about the industrial revolution etc for history, I spent hours reading the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations!

    Churchill said “It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.” but Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”

  8. Marcoli
    Posted May 23, 2013 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    LOVE that wall of chotskies. Where did he get that giraffe?

  9. Occam
    Posted May 23, 2013 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    “Une erreur peut être vraie ou fausse selon que celui qui l’a commise s’est trompé ou non.” (Henri Monnier)

    The “Magic mirror… / Mirror, mirror…” misquotation from Snow White is strictly and narrowly true only in reference to the 1937 Disney movie:

    “Magic Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”

    The Grimm’s original reads:

    “Spieglein, Spieglein an der Wand,
    Wer ist die Schönste im ganzen Land?”

    usually translated as:

    “Looking-glass upon the wall,
    Who is fairest of us all?”


    “Looking-glass, looking-glass, on the wall,
    Who in this land is the fairest of all?”

    Clearly, “Mirror, mirror on the wall” would be more faithful to the Grimm’s original.

    “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
    A brilliant analysis of Churchillian rhetoric by Stephen Bungay shows how Churchill’s speeches worked because they ran contrary to expectations. Misquoting Churchill is but shorthand for pushing his oratory back into the common mould.

  10. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted May 23, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    “The trouble with quotes on the Internet is that you can never know if they are genuine.” –Abraham Lincoln

    • Occam
      Posted May 23, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      “May I quote you on that?” — Moses to Burning Bush

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 23, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      Nicely done 🙂

  11. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 23, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    There seems to be three categories:

    1) slight misquotations where the real quote is quite similar. (“Play it again, Sam” would qualify though not listed here.)

    2) Real quotations attributed to the wrong person.

    3) Completely fabricated quotations.

    I love this video and am posting it on Facebook, but would have liked to have seen a clearer separation.

    Incidentally, “Elementary, my dear Watson” first appeared in the 1929 film, “The Return of Sherlock Holmes”.

  12. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    This is why I detest quotes – and you can quote me on that.

    [Kid, kid (well, duh)! Quotes have their use.]

  13. Jim Sweeney
    Posted May 23, 2013 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Crooked Timber had a longish thread on this very topic a couple of weeks ago.

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