Famous Misquotes: The Best Lines That Were Never Said

Updated on February 13, 2014

Fact or Fiction?

We have all heard many famous quotes and some in particular seem to stick in our heads. Some quotes we may even use ourselves, when the timing is right, or the situation fits.

However, the interesting thing is that it is some of the most popular and most famous quotes that are not authentic at all. Instead, they are misquotes... never being said at all.

How does this happen? And how do we end up with the quotes that we so famously know?

That is the topic of this Hub. I hope you find it as interesting as I did, when doing the research.

Let's explore!

So let's break it down into categories. There are many secular misquotes (quotes attributed to real people) as well as famous movie misquotes. They are both quite interesting as to origin. So let's examine a few.

First, let's examine famous historical quotes.

George Washington and The Cherry Tree
George Washington and The Cherry Tree

George Washington: "I cannot tell a lie, ... "

Quote: “I cannot tell a lie. It was I who chopped down the cherry tree.”

Most of us probably heard this story growing up. The story told of a young George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and when confronted by his father, this is the famous quote.

However, in actuality, Washington never said this. The story was first told in the 1800s by biographer Parson Weems. In Weems' book, the tree was not chopped down.

First off, the actual quote from the original story was, "I can't tell a lie. Pa, you know I can't tell a lie." So the entire quote was wrong. But the biographer not only got the quote wrong, but didn't validate the story to begin with. The tree in question was never chopped down, which was mentioned in Weems' book. The story came from a distant cousin, an unnamed woman, who told the story for truth in order to make Washington look better. The biographer used this story in his book, even though he knew it was unsubstantiated.

Horace Greeley
Horace Greeley | Source

Horace Greeley: "Go West, Young Man..."

This quote was attributed to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune and candidate for Presidency. However, the quote was actually from John Barsone Lane Soule in Indiana in 1851. Soule wrote in an article on the growing popularity of heading to the western regions of the U.S. to seek fame, fortune and gold. Horace Greeley, reprinted the full article by Soule along with the clear attribution. However, most people still think of Greeley when they hear this quote.

Edward Murphy: "Anything That Can Go Wrong, Will," (Murphy's Law)

"Anything that can go wrong, will...." This is commonly referred to as Murphy's Law. This is probably the most common of all misquotes.

I've used this so many times, I can't even tell you the number. Yet, until today, I never even knew the origins. What's worse, I never even questioned them. I'm glad I did this project today, or I might have never known.

Why is this a misquote?

Because this quote has always been attributed to Edward Murphy, hence the nickname, "Murphy's Law." However, Edward Murphy never uttered these words.

How did this misquote get started? No one is completely sure, but it was probably reinterpreted from something similar that he did say.

“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."

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare | Source

William Shakespeare: "To Gild The Lilly"

"To Gild The Lilly" is a quote from William Shakespeare.

Hmmm, or is it?

On closer examination, one will find that William Shakespeare never said these words at all. Rather, the actual quote is “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily," which came from Shakespeare's King John.

Niccolo Machiavelli
Niccolo Machiavelli | Source

Niccolo Machiavelli: "The Ends, Justify The Means"

This is one we all know. Although, most of us, I think, have probably never even thought about the origins.

As it turns out to be, this is a liberal reinterpretation (and perhaps embellished) version of what Niccolo Machiavelli actually said, which is "“One must consider the final result.”

Personally, I would say 'liberal' reinterpretation might be a bit too lenient. Very different meanings might be a little more accurate.

Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette | Source

Marie Antoinette: "Let Them Eat Cake!"

Quote: “If they have no bread, let them eat cake!”

Actually, in French, I think it went something like, “S’ils n’ont plus de pain, qu’ils mangent de la brioche.”

But, I'm not entirely sure, since I don't know French.

Queen Marie Antoinette is still much maligned over this quote and yet, the truth is, she never even said it! It was actually from the book Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in which he said: “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’.” The attribution to Queen Marie is no doubt anti-royal propaganda during a very troubled time in French history.

Paul Revere
Paul Revere | Source

Paul Revere: "The British Are Coming!"

What? This one we read about in our History Books, so this has to be rue, right?


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.

So where did this misquote originate from?

It is most likely based on (though perhaps liberally) the later famous poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

I know, I know... we're going to have to rewrite history.

Phillip Sheridan
Phillip Sheridan | Source

Phillip Sheridan: "The Only Good Indian, Is A Dead Indian."

Quote: “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

What General Sheridan is alleged to have said is “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead”. He actually denied saying anything remotely like it.

I like this man.

Famous Movie Misquotes

Then, there are the infamous movie misquotes. Somebody watches something, it gets interpreted differently, repeated differently, embellished... and soon, we have our recipe for our infamous movie misquotes.

Still, they are just as interesting, if not more so! Let's get started!

Count Dracula
Count Dracula

Count Dracula: "I Want To Suck Your Blood..."

The legendary blood-sucking Count Dracula, which of course was played by Hungarian-born actor Bela Lugosi, never said "I want to suck your blood" in the Universal horror classic, Dracula (1931). However, the line was used in a humorous context by Dr. Tom Mason (Ned Bellamy) practicing his Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) impersonation in director Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994).

Interesting, don't you think?

Tarzan and Jane
Tarzan and Jane | Source

Tarzan: "Me, Tarzan. You, Jane."

Tell me, you have not heard this.

I was floored when I realized this was never aid. Not so much from the fact that was it was never said, as much as I've watched these movies and I still never picked up on it.

Do you want to know what the actual dialog was? You can either google the movie, or I will transcript it here for you:

By the way, this is from,

Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932)

Jane: (pointing to herself) Jane.
Tarzan: (he points at her) Jane.
Jane: And you? (she points at him) You?
Tarzan: (stabbing himself proudly in the chest) Tarzan, Tarzan.
Jane: (emphasizing his correct response) Tarzan.
Tarzan: (poking back and forth each time) Jane. Tarzan. Jane. Tarzan...

Maybe I do remember this...

Wicked Witch (Snow White): "Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, Who Is The Fairest Of Them All?"

In Disney's animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), the wicked Queen asked: "Magic Mirror on the Wall, who is the Fairest one of all?"

Where did this misquote originate from?

Turns out the misquote was heard in Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988), 101 Dalmatians (1996), 54 (1998), and other films.

Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes | Source

Sherlock Holmes: "Elementary, My Dear Watson!"

Can you believe this phrase was never uttered by the fictional character Sherlock Holmes in the original books? This quote was rather found in a film review in the New York Times on October 19, 1929. It became popularized only after its trademark use in The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1929).

It was also stated by Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes character in Twentieth Century Fox's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) - "Elementary, my dear Watson. Purely elementary." The closest phrases in Doyle's writings were in The Crooked Man ("Excellent!" I cried. "Elementary!", said he.), and in The Adventure of the Cardboard Box ("It was very superficial, my dear Watson, I assure you").


Captain James T. Kirk: "Beam Me Up, Scotty."

How many times have you either heard this or repeated this yourself? I know I have more times than I care to repeat. I wish you knew how many times I've used this line at the end of the day when I no longer feel like driving. So I had to laugh when I found that perception really is half the battle.

Even in multiverses, this phrase has never been uttered on any other planet, at least not by Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. The closest he ever came to that misquote was when he said, "Beam us up, Mr. Scott" in The Gamesters of Triskelion, a 1968 episode of Star Trek.

Casablanca | Source

"Play It Again, Sam."

This is one of the most infamous misquotes ever from a movie. How many time have you used this one?

Well, guess what?

Never happened. Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart in the 1942 Hollywood classic Casablanca, never once throughout the movie says, "Play it again, Sam." This is what he actually says: "If she can stand it, I can. Play it!" Earlier in the film, Ilsa Lund, Rick's old flame, played by Ingrid Bergman says, "Play it, once Sam, for old time's sake. Play it Sam, play 'As Time Goes By'."

Never once do you hear, "Play It Again, Sam."

What a tragedy.

Why Do We Care?

How do all these misquotes really happen? And why do we care?

Because we're human, on both counts.

We are imperfect, we make many mistakes. We make mistakes, some on purpose, some not. We embellish, it's in our nature. We try to better everything we do, even if we do not succeed in the process. Sometimes, we just make mistakes.

Whatever, the case, it is interesting to know the actual truth behind and origins of certain famous quotes, even when they are mistaken.


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    • JoyLevine profile image

      Ofwaterfallsandtrails Photography 3 years ago

      Interesting comment, regarding "...how many of the misquoted individuals above would have preferred the revised, popular version of their quotes, and how many would have stuck to their original version given the choice?"

      Intriguing thought! Either way, I'm sure they would be amused. It kind of reminds me of the game we used to play in school... the 'whisper game', remember that one?

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 3 years ago from Essex, UK

      It is interesting how many famous quotes take on a life of their own and are embellished. And I guess that will happen even more in the future now we have social media, where quotes and half-truths may be spread in an instant and often without attribution.

      I wonder how many of the misquoted individuals above would have preferred the revised, popular version of their quotes, and how many would have stuck to their original version given the choice?

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 4 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Fantastic hub. I knew "Play it again Sam" was misquoted, but not the others. Now I'll question all quotes I read. Thanks, voted up.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Great information! We just assume that what we have heard was true. This makes you rethink a few things, doesn't it. Voting up and interesting!

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      Great enjoyable read. Strange people we are that never question what we repeat.

      Voting UP and more

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Very interesting and good catch! I believed these quotes existed all along, never once questioning them.

    • SavannahEve profile image

      SavannahEve 4 years ago from California

      Perfect! I love this. I remember I had to do tell quite a few audience members about the Play It Again Sam misquote when I did a Bergman impression in a play called "Haunted Cabaret". No one believed me! Great Hub! Voted up!

    • Kevina Oyatedor profile image

      kevina oyatedor 4 years ago

      this was awesome!!! voted uo.

    • TDowling profile image

      Thomas Dowling 4 years ago from Florida

      Great idea for a Hub. Totally enjoyed it! Rated up. -TD