JoyLevine is an avid linguistics/language arts enthusiast. She grew up with her nose stuck in a book almost every day.
Fact or Fiction?
We all know what happens. We go to a party, or we are with a group of friends. Sooner or later, someone repeats a famous line from some movie.
"Luke... I am your father...."
Pretty soon, the whole room is repeating lines from that movie, or multiple other movies. Hours can pass and you're having so much, you don't even notice.
There are so many movie quotes out there, we could rattle them off with our eyes closed. Or could we?
Turns out, a lot of the most popular and famous quotes that are repeated are not actually authentic at all. Instead, they are misquotes.
How does this happen? And how do we end up repeating these quotes that were never even spoken?
That's the topic of this article. I hope you find it as interesting as I did when doing the research on this subject.
Let's explore these erroneous and spurious misquotes!
So let's break it down into categories. There are many secular misquotes (quotes attributed to real historical figures) 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: "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.
The tree in question was never chopped down. This version of 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: "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: "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: "The Ends, Justify The Means"
This is one we are all familiar with. However, this is a liberal reinterpretation (and perhaps embellished) version of what Niccolo Machiavelli actually said, which is "“One must consider the final result.”
In fact, "lliberal' reinterpretation might be a bit too lenient on this one. It's just plain erroneous.
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 only guessing...
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 was said to be anti-royal propaganda during a very troubled time in French history. It never happened.
Paul Revere: "The British Are Coming!"
Oh, no... it can't be true! But it is.
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 last thing Revere would ever have done is ride down shouting at the top of his lungs, "The British Are Coming!"
So where did this misquote originate from?
It is most likely based on (though perhaps liberally) the later famous poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.” That's right.
I know, I know... we're going to have to rewrite history.
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 actually said is “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead”. He actually denied saying anything remotely like it.
Famous Movie Misquotes
Then, there are the infamous movie misquotes. Somebody watches something, it gets repeated differently, embellished... and soon, we have our recipe for our infamous movie misquotes.
Still, they are just as interesting, if not more so! So, here we go!
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: "Me, Tarzan. You, Jane."
Tell me, you have not heard this. This quote was said to be from the original Tarzan movie.
I was floored when I realized this was never said. And 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. How is that possible?
Do you want to know what the actual dialogue was? I will transcribe it here for you.
By the way, this is from,
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... I mean, it's not really that much different, is it?
Wicked Witch (Snow White): "Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, Who Is The Fairest Of Them All?"
Okay, so this is a very minor misquote, but still an interesting one. It demonstrates how once something is said wrong, even if it's one word, it gets replicated.
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: "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.
"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."
Mind-boggling, isn't it?
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. Sometimes we embellish, it's in our nature. We are wired that way. We repeat things we hear from others. But more often than not, we just make simple mistakes.
Whatever, the case, it is interesting to know the actual truth behind and origins of certain famous quotes, even when they are mistaken.
JoyLevine (author) from 3rd Rock from the Sun on July 06, 2018:
"We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you no stinkin' badges!"
Case in point! :)
Daniel J Hurst from London on July 06, 2018:
"We don't need no stinkin' badges"
JoyLevine (author) from 3rd Rock from the Sun on April 17, 2018:
Thank you for your nice comment. It really is interesting when you find out things you take for granted are not as it seemed. :)
Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on November 05, 2017:
Some of these I had heard in their correct version like the Sherlock Holmes quote. Others I had not heard and I found them interesting. I like the way you put together this collection with the photos and a good bit of humor.
JoyLevine (author) from 3rd Rock from the Sun on January 09, 2015:
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 from Essex, UK on January 03, 2015:
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?
John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on November 25, 2013:
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.
Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on August 24, 2013:
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!
Rosemary Sadler from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand on August 17, 2013:
Great enjoyable read. Strange people we are that never question what we repeat.
Voting UP and more
Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on August 12, 2013:
Very interesting and good catch! I believed these quotes existed all along, never once questioning them.
Suzi Rayve from California on August 11, 2013:
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 on August 10, 2013:
this was awesome!!! voted uo.
Thomas Dowling from Florida on August 10, 2013:
Great idea for a Hub. Totally enjoyed it! Rated up. -TD