There is a big difference between Walter Scott and Walter Dill Scott.

Today’s topic is about an inspirational quote that is often falsely attributed to Walter Scott or Sir Walter Scott.  Unfortunately, this misattribution is very popular across the internet and continues to grow like a fungus.

The Misattributed and Misworded Quote

“Success or failure in business is caused more by the mental attitude even than by mental capacities.”
Walter Scott or Sir Walter Scott

The Correct Quote

“Success or failure in business is caused more by mental attitude even than by mental capacities.”
Walter Dill Scott
Increasing Human Efficiency in Business
Chapter VI

Here is the quote found in chapter VI of Increasing Human Efficiency in Business by Walter Dill Scott:

The Quote Found in Chapter VI of Increasing Human Efficiency in Business by Walter Dill Scott

The Quote Found in Chapter VI of Increasing Human Efficiency in Business by Walter Dill Scott

Here is the book title page:

Title Page of Increasing Human Efficiency in Business Showing Walter Dill Scott as the Author

Title Page of Increasing Human Efficiency in Business Showing Walter Dill Scott as the Author


The quote virus is hard at work with today’s quote.  After surveying 105 infected websites, I found the following statistics.

PercentageType of Website
66%    Quotes-only or Quotes a major feature
12%    Corporate individuals or companies
8%     Informational (sports, science, news, etc.)
7%     Social media
2%     Quotes paraphernalia for purchase
2%     Organization/foundation
1%     Academic/educational/school
1%     Topical group/forum
1%     Online service/app

The Cause of the Misattribution and Miswording

There are two people at the root of this misquote.  Both are notable men, and both happen to be named Walter Scott.  The first is Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832), the Scottish novelist and poet most known for his literary works Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, and The Lady of the Lake.  He was granted the title of baronet in 1820, and thus he is known as Sir Walter Scott.  The second is Walter Dill Scott (1869–1955), the American psychologist most known for his theories on organizational and business psychology, and his name does NOT bear the prefix “Sir.”  Clearly, they are two very different people who lived in very different places at very different times.  Unfortunately for Walter Dill Scott, he is preceded by the more well-known Sir Walter Scott, which means Walter Dill will most likely forever be in the shadow of Sir Walter.

Knowing how the quote virus works, we can assume that sometime after Walter Dill Scott published Increasing Human Efficiency in Business, someone must have cited this quote from the book without using his complete name.  And since Sir Walter Scott is more well-known than Walter Dill Scott, most people probably assumed Sir Walter Scott was the originator and took the liberty of adding “Sir” to the attribution.  Additionally, someone came along and added the word “the” before the words “mental attitude,” and for some reason this version prevailed.  With the advent of the internet, we can assume that quote websites took the liberty of adding Sir Walter Scott’s photo and bio to the quote further enforcing this inaccurate information.  Today this misquote is so deeply entrenched in the world of quotes that it not only appears on quote websites and in quote books, but it has made its way into the title of a poem written by Sir Walter Scott.  See the “Most Amusing Find” section below for full details.

This is why it is important to only use quotes that have detailed source information.  The author/orator’s name should be accompanied by the work in which the quote is found along with applicable information such as chapter, verse, stanza, line, scene, act, etc.

All is Not Lost

When I researched the quote with the correct wording (sans “the” before “mental attitude”), I found six websites with the correct attribution.  So Walter Dill Scott is hanging in there by a thread.  My hope is that this post will help educate the world to give credit where credit is due.

Most Amusing Find

During my research, I came across a recent publication (2014) of Sir Walter Scott’s poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel.  The amusing part is that the publishing company actually added Walter Dill Scott’s quote to the title!  So the new title reads The Lay of the Last Minstrel: “Success or failure in business is caused more by the mental attitude even than by mental capacities.”  This egregious mistake will give a lot of power to the quote virus.  This publishing company could single-handedly obliterate Walter Dill Scott as the originator—poor guy.


I came across five books featuring the misquote, three of which are quotes-only books.  All were published between 2004 and 2014.  Once again, I must reiterate that quotes-only books are not to be trusted unless they include detailed source information.  This means author/orator name, book title with chapter, play title with act and scene, poem title with line number, or speech date and location.  If you can easily locate the quote, the source is reliable.  Most modern quote books are compilations of quotes and misquotes found in previously published quote books and/or quotes found on quote websites.  And as I have demonstrated in the aforementioned statistics (and all previous posts), quote websites are the most unreliable sources for quotes.

For Sale

Like many of the other misquotes I’ve blogged about, today’s misquote is available for purchase.  For $22.95 you can spice up your mornings with a misquote coffee mug, or for $19.99 you can have your own fashionable misquote t-shirt.  These fine products not only feature the incorrect wording but include the incorrect attribution.  What a bonus!

Kill the Quote Virus

The quote virus can only be killed through education and safe quoting.  You can help educate by sharing this blog post with friends and family.  You can also practice safe quoting by following all the guidelines on my “What You Can Do” page.  I would also greatly appreciate it if you would help spread the knowledge by “liking” my Sue Brewton Author Facebook fan page or following @SueBrewton on Twitter.

And don’t forget

“Be the antidote and don’t misquote.”

©Sue Brewton

No, that’s not how Benjamin Franklin wrote it.

Today’s misworded quote is not as ubiquitous as the one in my previous post; however, it is a good example of how a quote can morph into an entirely different quote as it propagates across the internet and modern literature.  Please note I have underlined the words within the quote that have changed over time.

The Misworded Quote

“Work as if you were to live a thousand years, play as if you were to die tomorrow.”
Benjamin Franklin

The Correct Quote

“Work as if you were to live 100 years, pray as if you were to die to-morrow.”
Benjamin Franklin
Poor Richard’s Almanac, May 1757

Here is the quote found in Poor Richard’s Almanac:

The quote found in Poor Richard’s Almanac, May 1757

The quote found in Poor Richard’s Almanac, May 1757

The Sources of the Misworded Quote

Like all other misquotes floating around in cyberspace, this misquote appears on blogs and social media websites.  But more importantly it rears its ugly head on websites solely dedicated to providing quotes.  One would think websites that appear to be an authority on a very specific topic would provide reliable data.  Unfortunately, this is not true of quote websites.

Additionally, this misworded quote appears in a recently published book of strictly Benjamin Franklin quotes.  Obviously, the author of this book did no research to ensure that only verified quotes were used.  One would think that a book on so narrow a topic would be authoritative and accurate.  The truth is that, much like quote websites, modern quote books are not reliable sources.

Finally, I came across another book recently published about Benjamin Franklin’s life, and the author includes this misquote on the book’s website.  Thankfully, it is not featured in the book itself; otherwise, the book and the author would lose complete credibility.

The only books that can be trusted for quotes are books that include the name of the author/orator of the quote, the work in which the quote is found, AND the location of the quote within the work (e.g. chapter, act, scene, stanza, line).  This last piece of data is important as I have come across many misquotes that attribute the author along with the title of the work when in fact one or both are false.

Most Amusing Find

My most amusing find is a website that sells term papers to students and offers this misquote as a topic to choose from.  I wonder what the profits are from this sham!  The bottom line is you can’t believe everything you read.  Always question the author and the source.

Earwitness Accounts are Not Reliable

To avoid confusion regarding the source of today’s misquote, I want to mention that the first part of the misquote is very similar to another quote commonly attributed to Ann Lee (1736-1784), a Shaker leader and founder of the Shaker Society.  Because she was illiterate and could not write, the only sources available for her quotes are earwitness accounts.  Because each account is slightly different, there are variations of the quote.  Here are two examples:

  • “Do all your work as though you had a thousand years to live, and as though you were going to die to-morrow.”
  • “Do all your work as though you had a thousand years to live, and as you would if you knew you must die to-morrow.”

Obviously, this quote repeats the sentiment of the first half only of today’s misquote, but because they are so similar, be aware that if you search the internet for the misquote, you will probably come across both Franklin and Lee as the source.

Translated Quotes are Not Reliable

I should also mention that there is a Latin quote that has several translations, one of which is extremely similar.  It is:

  • “Work as if you were to live a thousand years, live as if you were to die tomorrow.”

The caveats are that this quote can be found attributed to Ansalus de Insulis, St. Edmund of Abingdon, and unknown, so its origins are sketchy.  And since it is translated from Latin, there are many variations.  The actual Latin wording is Disce ut semper victurus, vive ut cras moriturus.  My research has found these additional translations:

  • “Work as if you were to live forever; live as if you were to die tomorrow.”
  • “Study as if you were to live forever; live as if you were to die tomorrow.”
  • “Learn so that you may be victorious; live so that tomorrow you may be prepared to die.”
  • “Learn as if you were to live forever; live as if you were to die tomorrow.”

The last translation is also commonly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi except the statement order is reversed with the “live as” clause occurring before the “learn as” clause.  So if you decide to do some internet research, be aware that in addition to Benjamin Franklin and Ann Lee, you will also probably find Ansalus de Insulis, St. Edmund of Abingdon, Mahatma Gandhi, and unknown as the source.

Conclusion on Unreliable Quotes

In summary, secondary sources or ear-witness accounts are unreliable and should not be used as direct quotes.  A hearsay quote would be a lot more trustworthy if it were derived from an actual interview that is conducted with the cooperation of the quoted person and is published during his/her lifetime.  Additionally, quotes that are translated from another language are also not reliable.  Every translator has a slightly different interpretation.  And as today’s misquote demonstrates, all it takes is the tweaking of one or two words, and the quote takes on another life.  Two slightly different translations can morph into four slightly different quotes which can morph into eight and so on and so forth.  Yup, it’s that pesky quote virus I’ve been preaching about.  Until someone can invent some kind of vaccine for it, we need to practice safe quoting by only using verified quotes.  So check your sources!  And remember

Investigate.  Don’t propagate.  Demand integrity in quoting.”

©Sue Brewton