If you regularly spend time on social networking sites, you may have already seen this:
And countless other such memes.
Even if you don’t use social networking a lot, you’ve probably heard of these “quotes”:
- “Let them eat cake.” Marie Antoinette
- “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Sherlock Holmes
- “Money is the root of all evil.” Saint Paul
Ironically, all of these “quotes” are, at best, inaccurate, if not completely made up.
With some, it’s obvious. I mean, come on – who really thinks Lincoln said something about the internet? That one’s clearly meant to be a joke… but with the others, it isn’t so clear.
JFK never said the quote attributed to him above. Sorry, conspiracy theorists. Go look somewhere else.
While Einstein never said the quote above, it humorously remains true.
“Let them eat cake” was never said by Marie Antoinette. It began as part of a story about a “great princess” and was attributed to Marie Antoinette around the time of the French Revolution, possibly by one of the revolutionaries.
Never, in all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s work do the words “Elementary, my dear Watson,” appear.
St. Paul? Well, he said something pretty close – “Love of money is the root of all evils.” Close, but the meaning is very different.
If you have reason to suspect a quote as a false attribution, there are plenty of ways to find out – usually a quick Google search will suffice to either find the original source and verify its authenticity, or discover who really began the quote and why.
Sometimes, it’s just a mix up and you need to clarify who really said the quote:
Also, look to make sure that you are reading the full quote. All too often, this happens:
To determine the authentic value of a quote, and interpret it rightly, we need to examine three points:
- Content. Did that person really say that? Is that what the person really said?
- Context. Is the way the quote is being used respecting the context of the original quote? Or is it isolating one part of what the person said and, in so doing, losing or misrepresenting half, if not most of the idea originally conveyed?
- Meaning. What is the actual meaning of the person’s words? This is most important when we are quoting something from a different time period, when words we still use may have had a different meaning, or different expressions might have been used. For example, if I tell you today that it’s “raining cats and dogs”, we both have a mutual understanding of what I mean. Imagine someone quoting me a few centuries from now without first looking into what I meant by those words. Who knows what misunderstanding would ensue and how it would be used…
Just one final idea: Finding out that a quotation has been falsely attributed to someone shouldn’t undermine the meaning of the quote if there’s truth to it. Take this quote, for example:
Did Lincoln really say that? No. Is it worth repeating anyway? Yes.
If you discover that a quote has been misattributed, but still has significance, pass it on. Just find out who really said it first, or pass it on as an “anonymous” quote.