William Wordsworth vs. Bertrand Russell

Today’s post concerns a popular motivational quote that is often misattributed and misworded.

The Misattributed and Misworded Quote

“What we need is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out.”
William Wordsworth

“What we need is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out.”
Bertrand Russell

The Correct Quote

“What is wanted is not the will-to-believe, but the wish to find out, which is its exact opposite.”
Bertrand Russell
“Free Thought and Official Propaganda” speech
Delivered at South Place Institute in London, England on March 24, 1922

“Free Thought and Official Propaganda” Is the Work of Origin

Most sources with the correct attribution cite Sceptical Essays, published in 1928, as the work in which to find the quote.  It is a collection of Russell’s essays and includes his 1922 speech “Free Thought and Official Propaganda” as an essay.  This speech was also published in 1922 as a book.  While it is not incorrect to cite Sceptical Essays as the source, I prefer to use the name of the speech “Free Thought and Official Propaganda” as it is more specific and is the work in which the quote originated.

There Are Two Versions Attributed to Bertrand Russell

Note the wording in the second misquote.  It appears that somewhere along the line, someone realized this quote is from Bertrand Russell and corrected the name attribution but did not correct the wording.  And as we have learned from all my previous posts, the quote virus took over, and this new version propagated.  This is why there are two versions of the quote attributed to Russell.

Here is the correct quote found in “Free Thought and Official Propaganda” by Bertrand Russell.

The Quote Found in 'Free Thought and Official Propaganda' by Bertrand Russell

The Quote Found in ‘Free Thought and Official Propaganda’ by Bertrand Russell

Here is the title page of “Free Thought and Official Propaganda” by Bertrand Russell.

Title Page of 'Free Thought and Official Propaganda' by Bertrand Russell

Title Page of ‘Free Thought and Official Propaganda’ by Bertrand Russell

Statistics

After surveying seventy-eight websites featuring the misattributed quote, I found the following trends.

PercentageType of Website
44%    Quotes only
17%    Quotes a major feature
10%    Corporate individual or company
9%     Academic/educational/school
9%     Social media
4%     Informational
3%     Quotes paraphernalia for purchase
3%     Online service/app
1%     Organization or discussion forum

The Source of the Misattributed Quote

Once again, the statistics tell the same story.  It is the websites dedicated to quotes only that are the major source of this misquote.  Coming in second place are websites that feature extensive quote collections in addition to other topics.  Even though it would seem that a website which specializes in quotes would be the best resource for quotes, the statistics clearly indicate otherwise.

Sadly, tied for fourth place are educational institutions.  This shows how powerful the quote virus is.  Even the hallowed halls of academia are not immune to its infection.

Another Possible Misattribution on the Horizon

I came across an addiction information website that attributes the quote to William Shakespeare.  I thought this was odd as I had never seen this attribution before.  So I did a little bit of research to see if I could find where this information may have originated.  The possible answer is a book of quotes published in 2002 which features Russell’s quote just prior to a Shakespeare quote.  I am guessing the addiction website administrator read it and misunderstood which quote went with which author and posted it erroneously on the website.  Yes, I realize there’s a joke here, but I can’t bring myself to write it, so we will just have to silently chuckle to ourselves.  Any way, this may sound like an outlandish conclusion, but based on how the quote virus works, it is a definite possibility.  Who knows—this could be the beginning of a new viral strain and within a year or two, we may see a third version of the quote commonly attributed to Shakespeare.

Quote Books Are Not Always Reliable

I found today’s misquote in a quote book published in 2014.  Much like quote websites, just because a book specializes in quotes, does not mean it is a reliable resource.  Unfortunately, most modern quote books are compilations of previous quote books which are compilations of previous quote books and so on and so forth.  Additionally, most modern quote books also contain compilations of quotes found on quote websites.  Because of all this duplication, miswording and misattributions are propagated ad infinitum.  As I’ve mentioned before, a quote that only provides a name attribution is not reliable.  It should also include the title of the work in which the quote is found as well as relevant information such as chapter, act, scene, line number, stanza, etc.

Most Disappointing Find

It is so disheartening to see educational institutions propagating misquotes.  One of the more disturbing finds is a school librarian who uses the misattributed quote on her library web page.  I also found another school’s English department using it on their web page.  And most egregious of all is a university professor and poetry editor of a national literary journal who uses it in one of his books.

Most Amusing Find

I discovered a religious website featuring today’s misquote.  The irony is that the true originator, Bertrand Russell, was not a fan of religion.  He not only considered himself agnostic and atheist but he wrote many essays on the topic.

For Sale

As with most other popular quotes, today’s misattributed quote is available for purchase.  I came across a website selling the misquote on t-shirts for $28.01.  I found another one offering posters for $12.20.  The bonus is that you get two for the price of one—misattributed AND misworded.  What a deal!

Kill the Quote Virus

Only you, dear reader, can help exterminate the quote virus.  Like a physiological virus, the best weapons are education and prevention.  You can educate by sharing the knowledge.  Share this post with your family and friends or “like” my Facebook fan page or follow me on Twitter.  You can prevent infection by never using a quote from a quote website and never trusting a quote that does not include detailed source information.  The name attribution alone is not sufficient.  For a complete list of prevention tips, visit my “What You Can Do” page.

Until next time,

“Be the antidote and don’t misquote.”

©Sue Brewton

Friedrich Schiller Morphs into Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Today’s post explores an inspirational quote that is often falsely attributed to Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  It isn’t as widespread as most of the other misquotes I’ve written about; however, its evolution has some interesting twists and turns worth mentioning.

The Misattributed Quote

“There is nothing insignificant—nothing.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Correct Quote

“There’s nothing insignificant, / Nothing!”
Friedrich Schiller
The Piccolomini
Act I, Scene VI, lines 15–16
Translated into English by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Here is the quote found in the play The Piccolomini by Friedrich Schiller translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

The Quote Found in the Play The Piccolomini by Friedrich Schiller Translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Figure 1: The Quote Found in the Play The Piccolomini by Friedrich Schiller Translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Here is the title page of the play The Piccolomini by Friedrich Schiller translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  Note Coleridge uses the anglicized form of Schiller’s first name.

Title Page of the Play The Piccolomini by Friedrich Schiller Translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Figure 2: Title Page of the Play The Piccolomini by Friedrich Schiller Translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Statistics

This misattributed quote only appears on a handful of websites, but the statistics tell the same old story.

PercentageType of Website
36%    Quotes-only
29%    Online service/app
21%    Quotes a major feature
7%     Social media
7%     Quotes paraphernalia for purchase

The Source of the Misattributed Quote

As usual, the statistics reveal it is the websites dedicated solely to quotes that make up the largest percentage of misattributions (36%).  Websites with quotes as a major feature constitute another large piece of the pie (21%).  This means quote-oriented sites make up 57% of the source of this misquote.  Once again, we see that quote websites are the worst resource for quality quotes.  Avoid them at all costs.  Only use verified sources that include the author/orator’s name accompanied by the work in which the quote is found followed by applicable information such as chapter, act, scene, stanza, line, etc.

The Cause of the Misattribution

The originator of the quote is German poet and playwright, Friedrich Schiller, best known for his play William Tell.  The source of the quote is The Piccolomini, a drama completed by Schiller in 1799.  The confusion begins when the work gets translated from German into English by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1800.  It is this translated version that is the root of the misattribution.

The title page in figure 2 illustrates how easy it is to misinterpret who the author is.  With his poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, Coleridge is a celebrated poet in his own right.  His famous name appearing on any literary work would lead most people to believe he authored it.  On the title page, the words “Translated from the German of” are in a very small font size so they are easily overlooked.  This is most likely the major reason Coleridge gets credit for Schiller’s work.

Another contributing factor to the misattribution is that Coleridge anthologies often include works that were translated by him alongside works that were written by him.  Unfortunately, the table of contents does not always indicate which works were originated by another author.  This creates a situation where the reader will never know a work was authored by another writer until s/he reads the one page in the book where it is stated (typically the page on which the work begins).  This scenario is not uncommon.  My 10/21/14 post titled “Who wrote it? Wordsworth or Michelangelo?” is another example of a translator getting credit for work he did not author.

Punctuation Is Part of the Quote

Note the exclamation point in the correct quote.  In the world of quoting, exclamation points and question marks should not be removed because they convey meaning.  The misattributed version has the exclamation point deleted which is incorrect.

Note also the correct quote begins with the contraction “There’s” while the incorrect quote begins with “There is.”  The original form should always be retained, especially if the author is a prominent literary figure as both Schiller and Coleridge are.  It is downright sacrilegious to alter the words of the greats.  After all, their exemplary talent in the craft of writing is one of the reasons they are being quoted in the first place.

When quoting from a poem, the virgule (forward slash) indicates line divisions.  Figure 1 shows the last word of the quote begins a new line; thus a virgule is inserted accordingly into the citation.  Note also figure 1 has line numbers showing the quote begins on line 15 and ends on line 16.

The Correct Quote Has Two Variations

The quote can be found in Act I, Scene VI of The Piccolomini.  AND the quote can be found in Act II, Scene I of The Piccolomini.  Both are correct.  How is this possible?  Well it turns out there are two versions of the play.  Coleridge was sent the original version which had a total of 12 scenes in Act I.  Schiller then restructured the play for the print edition to have a total of five scenes in Act I.  This caused Scene VI to be moved forward into Act II becoming the first scene therein.  The following is a side-by-side comparison of the two versions to better illustrate how the two variations came about.

A Side-by-Side Comparison of the Two Versions of The Piccolomini

A Side-by-Side Comparison of the Two Versions of The Piccolomini

If you do a search for this quote on the internet, you will encounter both versions.  In summary, if the quote is from the original version, it will be found in Act I, Scene VI.  If it is from the newer, restructured version, it will be found in Act II, Scene I.

Translated Quotes Are Not Reliable

The final twist to this saga is that Coleridge was not the only person to translate The Piccolomini.  There were others, and they all have different translations for this particular quote.  Here are three variations:

“Nothing on earth, my son, is unimportant.”
Wallenstein:  A Dramatic Poem (1827), Act II, Scene I
Translated by George Moir

“There is in this world nothing unimportant.”
The Piccolomini (1862), Act II, Scene I
Translated by W. R. Walkington

“Nought is without its consequence in this world.”
The Piccolomini’s:  A Drama in Five Acts (1805), Act II, Scene I
Translated by unknown

The third translation was heavily criticized in reviews and magazines of the day, but I’m still including it to illustrate how wide translations can vary.  Notice all of them include the word “world” or “earth” except for the one by Coleridge.  How do we know which is the most accurate?  Maybe Coleridge is off the mark.  My point is that translated quotes are not reliable.  My 06/17/14 post titled “No, that’s not how Benjamin Franklin wrote it” includes another example of this involving a Latin quote with five very different English translations.

For Sale

Once again, we have a misattributed quote available for purchase.  I came across a website selling t-shirts printed with the misquote for $24.95.  What a bargain!

Kill the Quote Virus

I will conclude with another plea to help exterminate the quote virus.  It lives and breathes on the internet and uses quote websites to breed and spread infection.  One person posting one mutated quote is all it takes to begin an epidemic.  You, dear reader, can help stop this modern-day pestilence by practicing safe quoting.  This means never use a quote website as a resource for quotes.  Do not trust a quote book if it does not include detailed source information for each quote.  And never trust a quote found on social media.  You can help educate the world by forwarding this post to friends and family.  And remember

“Be the antidote and don’t misquote.”

©Sue Brewton

Edith Wharton vs. Edgar Watson Howe vs. Elbert Hubbard

Today’s post covers an inspirational quote that is falsely attributed to three different people.  Although it is not as widespread as most of the other misquotes I’ve written about, its mutations are worth mentioning.

The Misattributed and Misworded Quote and Its Variations

“To know when to be generous and when firm—that is wisdom.”
Edith Wharton

“To know when to be generous and when firm—this is wisdom.”
Edgar Watson Howe

“To know when to be generous and when firm—this is wisdom.”
Edgar Watson

The Correct Quote

“To know when to be generous, and when firm—this is wisdom.”
Elbert Hubbard
Little Journeys to the Homes of Eminent Orators
“Antony”

Here is the quote found in “Antony,” the second booklet in the Little Journeys to the Homes of Eminent Orators series first published in 1903:

The Quote Found in “Antony,” the Second Booklet in the Little Journeys to the Homes of Eminent Orators Series

The Quote Found in “Antony,” the Second Booklet in the Little Journeys to the Homes of Eminent Orators Series

Little Journeys to the Homes of Eminent Orators is actually a subseries under the overarching series titled Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great which was published monthly from December 1894 to 1910.  There are a total of fifteen subseries each focused on a specific category such as artists, philosophers, and scientists.  Here is the complete list for the 1903 eminent orators subseries showing Mark Antony as the second subject:

“Antony” Found in the List of the 1903 Eminent Orators Subseries

“Antony” Found in the List of the 1903 Eminent Orators Subseries

Here is the title page for the “Antony” issue:

Title Page of “Antony” Showing Elbert Hubbard as Author

Title Page of “Antony” Showing Elbert Hubbard as Author

Statistics

After surveying 40 infected websites, I found the following statistics.

PercentageType of Website
67%    Quotes-only (21) or Quotes a major feature (6)
17%    Social media
10%    Topical group/forum
3%     Quotes paraphernalia for purchase
3%     Online service/app

As usual, the overwhelming majority of websites featuring the misquote are quotes-only websites.  I must reiterate:  never use a quote website as a source for quotes.  They are notoriously unreliable.

The Cause of the Miswording

Many quote websites contain the exact same quotes, misquotes, and typos in the exact same order found on other quote websites.  In other words, there is widespread duplication of error.  For example, notice today’s misquote has two versions of wording.  The Edith Wharton misquote ends with the words “that is wisdom” while the Edgar Watson Howe versions end with the correct words “this is wisdom.”  Obviously, the transcriptionist who entered the Edith Wharton misquote misread the ending and unknowingly created a new “standardized” version.  I could find no instances of the Edith Wharton misquote that end with the correct wording.  Similarly, I could find no instances of the Edgar Watson Howe versions that end with the incorrect wording.  Furthermore, notice the Edgar Watson typo that is also duplicated across websites.  Clearly, the transcriptionist inadvertently omitted Howe, and this version is now beginning to propagate across the internet.  It only takes one person to begin the proliferation of the exact same error across all quote websites.  The administrators simply copy content from each other without checking for accuracy.

The Cause of the Misattribution

The quote virus got very creative and transformed this quote into a three-headed mutant.  The first head belongs to Edith Wharton who garnered 19 misattributions out of the 40 researched.  The second head belongs to Edgar Watson Howe who acquired 17 misattributions, and the third head belongs to Edgar Watson who collected four.

The question is why are these three people involved with this misquote?  Why these three?  My answer is the letter “E.”  Notice that all three first names as well as the correct author, Elbert Hubbard, begin with the letter “E.”  This is complete conjecture on my part, but I have encountered this alphabetical pattern on quotes websites many times.  I suspect that a quote website administrator was copying quotes from an alphabetized list in which Edgar Watson Howe or Edith Wharton occurred just prior to Elbert Hubbard, and when the list transitioned from Edgar or Edith to Elbert, the transcriptionist did not double check to ensure the quote entered corresponded with the correct person.  My July 17, 2014 post titled “Kennedy Morphs into Keats:  Another Reason to Get Your Inspirational Quotes from a Reliable Source” also features this phenomenon.  In this instance, it involves the last names of Keats and Kennedy.

The second question is how did the unknown Edgar Watson get involved with this misquote?  Clearly, the most well-known of the three is Edith Wharton (1862–1937), the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, and The House of Mirth.  Edgar Watson Howe (1853–1937) is not quite as renowned, but he did leave his mark as an American author as well as founder and editor of local newspapers and a magazine.  And then there’s the mysterious Edgar Watson.  The only Edgar Watson of note that I could find was Edgar J. Watson (1855–1910) of the Florida Everglades who was supposedly responsible for several murders.  Based on this information and the fact that he only received four misattributions, I am going to assume this “person” is the result of a typo.  Somewhere along the line, a quote website administrator inadvertently omitted “Howe” while entering data on a website and consequently created a new “person” in the world of quotes.  This is speculation on my part, but I have a feeling I’m right.  One thing we do know is that the quote virus will be infecting other websites with this misquote in the near future, and Edgar Watson will become a real person.

Most Amusing Find

I came across a quotes paraphernalia website featuring today’s misquote attributed to Edgar Watson—not Edgar Watson Howe or Edith Wharton or Elbert Hubbard—but Edgar Watson ONLY.  For $14.99 you can have your own misquote coffee mug.  For $29.99 you can get a misquote smart phone case (actually dumb phone case is a better description).  If you really want to splurge, you can have your own misquote framed art print for $39.99.  I wonder what the people at this company would think if they knew Edgar Watson was a serial killer.  Oh come on.  You’ve got to admit; that is amusing.

Kill the Quote Virus

Once again, we have seen the damage the quote virus can inflict.  To avoid being infected, be sure to practice safe quoting.  Never trust a quote that does not have complete 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.  Never trust a quote posted on social media, including the ones with the title, “Yes!  He actually said this.”  Don’t believe it.

Finally, the best way to kill the virus is through education.  Please help spread the knowledge by forwarding this article to friends and family.  Additionally, authors and speakers often use quotes in their work and unknowingly are the cause of misquote propagation.  If you happen to know any, please share the knowledge with them.

Until next time, don’t forget to

“Be the antidote and don’t misquote.”

©Sue Brewton

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

Statistics

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.

Books

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

Squire Bill Widener vs. Theodore Roosevelt

Today’s post is about a motivational quote that is often falsely attributed to Theodore Roosevelt.  It is very popular across the internet and in quote books.

The Misattributed Quote and Its Variations (in order of popularity)

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
Theodore Roosevelt

“Do what you can where you are, with what you have.”
Theodore Roosevelt

“Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”
Theodore Roosevelt

The Correct Quote

“Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”
Squire Bill Widener of Widener’s Valley, Virginia
Theodore Roosevelt:  An Autobiography
chapter IX

Here is the quote found in chapter IX of Theodore Roosevelt:  An Autobiography (first published in 1913).  Note that Roosevelt clearly attributes the quote to Squire Bill Widener.

The Quote Attributed to Squire Bill Widener Found in Chapter IX of Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography (1913)

The Quote Attributed to Squire Bill Widener Found in Chapter IX of Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography (1913)

Here is the book title page:

Title Page of Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography

Title Page of Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography

Here is the table of contents:

Table of Contents Showing Title of Chapter IX Where the Quote is Found

Table of Contents Showing Title of Chapter IX Where the Quote is Found

Statistics

The quote virus is having a field day with this quote.  After surveying 135 infected websites, I found the following statistics.

PercentageType of Website
42%    Quotes-only or Quotes a major feature
21%    Corporate individuals or companies
11%    Social Media
10%    Informational (sports, science, news)
7%     Quotes paraphernalia for purchase
6%     Organization/foundation
3%     Academic/educational/school

Please keep in mind, this is an incomplete sample; there are many more sites featuring this misquote.  I stopped at 135 because I think that is an adequate amount to get a good approximation of the statistics.  Once again the majority of websites featuring the misquote are websites with an emphasis on providing an extensive quotes collection.  And once again, I will reiterate that quote websites are not reliable sources for quotes.  Use a source that includes detailed information for each quote.  In addition to the author/orator’s name, there should be accompanying data that enables you to find and verify the quote easily.  This data can include book title, chapter, play title, act, scene, poem title, line number, or speech date and location.

Variations

Somehow over the years, the words “with what you’ve got” have morphed into “with what you have,” and this is the most popular version of the misquote.  The second most popular version has the words “where you are” transposed into the middle of the sentence instead of at the end.  The least popular version of this misquote is the one with the correct wording.  That figures!

Some people don’t mind paraphrased or reworded quotes.  I am not one of them.  It doesn’t make sense to reword quotes by orators or writers who are revered for their skills in speaking and writing.  I have seen reworded quotes from William Shakespeare, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Walt Whitman and many other great authors which I think is downright sacrilegious.  It doesn’t make sense to alter words written by the greats.  After all, this is why they are being quoted—their brilliance in the craft of words.  I know there are people who disagree with me, but that is my humble opinion and I’m sticking to it.

Possible Cause of The Misattribution

There are probably a couple of factors contributing to the birth of this misquote.  The first is the obvious being that Theodore Roosevelt did indeed utter and write these words.  Unfortunately, even though he gives full credit to Squire Bill Widener, this information does not get forwarded with the quote.  I am guessing this is because a quote has more of an impact if it is from a well-known person, and sadly, Mr. Widener does not fit into this category.

Another contributing factor to this misquote is probably due to quote hunters not taking the time to read the full text in which the quote appears.  They instead presume that all the words contained within a book are originated by the author.  As some of my previous posts have demonstrated, this practice results in misquotes.  For example, my 10/21/14 post titled “Who wrote it?  Wordsworth or Michelangelo?” illustrates how William Wordsworth gets misquoted because he translated into English words written in the Italian of Michelangelo.  Another example can be found in my 08/12/14 post titled “Another Erroneous Inspirational Quote—Another Method of Origin.”  In this instance, Mark Twain gets misquoted because he includes Samuel Watson Royston’s entire short story within his own book The £1,000,000 Bank-Note and Other New Stories.  In both cases, a disclaimer is included to clarify that the author did not write the included work, and recognition is given to the proper originator.  Unfortunately, these efforts to give credit where credit is due are overridden by individuals who do not take the time to read the quote in its full context and thereby create a misquote that gets propagated like a virus throughout the literary world.

All is Not Lost

On the positive side, there are a handful of websites that not only provide the quote with the correct wording but also provide the correct attribution.  Many of them also point out that this quote is often misattributed to Theodore Roosevelt.  So there is hope!

Books

I came across five books containing the misquote.  They range in publication date from 1993 to 2013.  One of these books is dedicated solely to quotes.  I noticed that most books prior to the inception of the internet have the quote correctly worded and attributed.  I’m going to sound like a broken record again, but quotes found in books published after the birth of the internet are particularly unreliable as most of these authors use the internet as the source for their quotes.  This does not mean that all quotes found in books prior to the internet are accurate.  It just means to be wary of contemporary books.  And this includes quote books.

For Sale

As with most of my previous posts, today’s misquote is available for purchase.  In fact, it is the most popular for-sale misquote I have researched to date.  For as little as $7.00, you can have your own framed print.  You can also have a framed, “autographed” print for $49.99; the so-called “autograph” is an image of Roosevelt’s signature superimposed onto an image of the misquote.  A variety of t-shirts and coffee mugs are also available for purchase.  Unfortunately, these products are another method of misquote propagation.

Kill the Quote Virus

I will once again conclude with a plea to help kill the quote virus.  Never trust a quote website.  Do not trust a quote book unless it provides detailed source information.  And if you’re hunting for quotes, make sure you read the entire text in which the quote is found.  As today’s misquote illustrates, all content in a book is not necessarily written by the author.  Please visit my “What You Can Do” page for a complete list of pitfalls to avoid.

You can also help combat the quote virus by sharing this post with your friends and family.  I would also appreciate very much if you would “like” my Sue Brewton Author Facebook fan page.  Every “like” helps.  And remember

“Be the antidote and don’t misquote.”

©Sue Brewton

Edgar Allan Poe vs. Washington Irving

Today’s topic is a motivational quote that is often falsely attributed to Edgar Allan Poe.  Unfortunately, the misattributed version is wildly popular across the internet.

The Misattributed Quote

“There is an eloquence in true enthusiasm that is not to be doubted.”
Edgar Allan Poe

The Correct Quote

“There is an eloquence in true enthusiasm that is not to be doubted.”
Washington Irving
“The Adventure of the German Student”
Tales of a Traveller

Here is the quote found in the short story “The Adventure of the German Student” by Washington Irving.

The Quote Found in “The Adventure of the German Student” by Washington Irving

The Quote Found in “The Adventure of the German Student” by Washington Irving

Here is the title page of the book Tales of a Traveller in which the short story appears.  The book was first published in 1824 by Washington Irving under the pseudonym Geoffrey Crayon.  Irving is best known for his short stories “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

Title Page of the Book Tales of a Traveller Showing the Author is Geoffrey Crayon, One of Irving’s Pseudonyms

Title Page of the Book Tales of a Traveller Showing the Author is Geoffrey Crayon, One of Irving’s Pseudonyms

Statistics

Today’s misquote has a serious case of quote virus infection.  It has contaminated a multitude of websites as well as modern books.  I surveyed 130 infected websites and found the following statistics.

PercentageType of Website
43%    Quotes-only or Quotes a major feature
33%    Social media
10%    Community/shared interest/discussion forum
5%     Corporate individuals or companies
4%     Online service or app
3%     Academic/educational/school
2%     Quotes paraphernalia for purchase

As in all my previous posts, the majority of websites featuring the misquote are websites dedicated solely to providing quotes.  Out of the 43% only six sites featured other non-quote information.  Once again, the lesson is do not rely on quotes websites for accurate quotes.  I know it doesn’t make sense that they are the least reliable since their sole purpose is to provide quotes.  Unfortunately, the administrators of these sites do not check the accuracy of the data they are providing, and many simply copy information verbatim from other inaccurate websites.  In fact many quotes websites contain the exact same quotes, the exact same misquotes with the exact same typos in the exact same order found on other quotes websites.  And as I’ve mentioned before, these types of websites continue to multiply like a virus.  Each time I do research for my next blog post, I notice new duplicate websites rearing their ugly heads.

The Possible Cause of the Misattribution

There are many books that feature the writings of both Edgar Allan Poe and Washington Irving.  Most of these books are collections of ghost stories or tales of the supernatural.  Some are collections of works by authors from the same time period or from the same country.  Since Poe and Irving happen to be grouped in several categories together, they are both often found within the same anthology.  One could surmise that perhaps a quote was taken from one of these collections and was inadvertently attributed to the wrong author in the collection.  This is a complete guess on my part, but I’m basing it on past experience with multiple authors found within the same book.  See my previous post dated 10/21/14 titled “Who wrote it? Wordsworth or Michelangelo?” as well as my post on 08/12/14 titled “Another Erroneous Inspirational Quote—Another Method of Origin.”  These two posts support my theory.

The Cause of Misquote Propagation

As my statistics indicate, social media is the second most popular category of website featuring today’s misquote.  The reason these sites play a major role in misquote propagation is they all feature some type of functionality to forward and re-post messages and images that users create.  For example, one Twitter user can create a cascade of re-tweets from a single tweet of a misquote.  In other words, the misquote travels from one person to multiple people who then forward it to multiple people who then forward it to multiple people and so on.  This is why I call it a quote virus.  Its propagation is very similar to a physiological or computer virus.  Social media together with quotes websites are the fuel propelling the spread of false information at an increasingly rapid pace.

Books

I came across two books featuring today’s misquote.  Both were published in 2010.  One is a book of strictly quotes.  The other is a book containing a chapter dedicated to quotes.  Neither of these books provides detailed source information for each quote; the author/orator’s name is the only information given.  This leads me to repeat my warning to be extra cautious when using quote books published after the birth of the internet.  Most of them are compilations of quotes found either on the internet or in other contemporary quote books.  Do not trust a book if the quotes do not include source information such as book title, chapter, play title, act, scene, poem title, line number, speech date, location, etc.  This applies to all books regardless of publication date.

Most Disappointing Find

The most disappointing discovery to me is that this misquote appears on academic websites for schools and universities.  Because information released from an educational institution or an educator is presumed to be current and accurate, a misquote disseminated from these types of sources might as well be gospel.  I actually came across two teachers who not only misattributed the quote to Poe but they also misspelled his middle name.  Additionally, I found an article produced by a writing consortium at a prestigious university featuring the same errors.  It is disconcerting that well-respected sources of information and knowledge play a part in misquote propagation.

Most Amusing Find

Although I am amused, I am also saddened by the following.  I came across a blogger whose home page title is “The Future Star of the Literary World,” and on the same page she cites Irving’s quote as being from The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe.  I came across another blogger who refers to herself as a “Poe Girl” on her title page, and underneath this title is Irving’s quote misattributed to Poe.

For Sale

As with many of my previous posts, today’s misquote is available for purchase.  For just $6.50 you can purchase one greeting card, or for $20.95 you can have your own coffee mug.  Not only do both items feature this very special misquote, but both come with Poe’s name misspelled and as a bonus the word “eloquence” is misspelled.  Be sure to place your order soon while supplies last!

Kill the Quote Virus

In conclusion, I will reiterate my admonition to never trust a quote from a quotes website, and never trust a quote found on social media.  Always make sure the quote is from a reliable source.  Please visit my “What You Can Do” page for a complete list of pitfalls to avoid.

To help extinguish the quote virus, please share this post with your friends and family, and “like” my Sue Brewton Author Facebook fan page to help spread the word.  And remember to

“Be the antidote and don’t misquote.”

©Sue Brewton

Who wrote it? Wordsworth or Michelangelo?

The topic of today’s post is an inspirational quote that is found across the internet falsely attributed to William Wordsworth.

The Misattributed Quote 

“Love betters what is best.”
William Wordsworth

The Correct Quote

“Love betters what is best.”
Michelangelo
Translated into English by William Wordsworth
Poems, volume I by William Wordsworth
Sonnets part I, sonnet 11

Statistics

This misquote isn’t quite as rampant as previous posts; however, given some time, I’m sure the quote virus will do its dirty work.  Out of 41 websites surveyed, here is what I found:

PercentageType of Website
29%    Quotes-only
29%    Social media
24%    Informational
7%     Books
5%     Corporate individuals or companies
2%     Services
2%     Quotes paraphernalia for purchase
2%     Discussion forums

Once again, one of the largest percentages belongs to websites dedicated solely to providing quotes.  Interestingly, social media tied with the same percentage.  This leads me to reiterate to never trust quotes found on quotes-only websites, and never trust quotes posted on your friends’ and family’s social media pages.  As the above numbers show, social media is another major source of misquote propagation.

Cause of the Misattribution

The primary reason this quote gets attributed to William Wordsworth is that he translated it into English from the Italian of Michelangelo and featured it in his own book Poems, in two volumes, first published in 1807.  Here is a disclaimer found in a later edition of the book:

Translation Disclaimer in Poems, in two volumes by William Wordsworth

Translation Disclaimer in Poems, in two volumes by William Wordsworth

Here is the quote found within Michelangelo’s poem:

The Quote Found within Michelangelo’s Poem

The Quote Found within Michelangelo’s Poem

Additionally, in July of 1859, the North American Review magazine did an article titled “The Life of Michel Angelo Buonarroti, with Translations of Many of his Poems and Letters” explaining that Wordsworth did the translation.  Here is the excerpt from the article:

Excerpt from North American Review Article Stating Wordsworth Did the Translation

Excerpt from North American Review Article Stating Wordsworth Did the Translation

Here is the first page of the article showing the title of the magazine and article:

Title Page of the Michelangelo Article Stating the Poems are Translations

Title Page of the Michelangelo Article Stating the Poems are Translations

Obviously, the misquote stems from someone who did not actually read Wordsworth’s book, assumed all content was written by him and then published this misinformation which then propagated over the centuries.  This is not the first time in my research that I have come across this type of origination.  Unfortunately, there are other authors whose works were translated by someone other than themselves and consequently misattributed.

Most Disappointing Find

Sadly, one of the websites featuring this misquote was an author interview website.  And it was a modern-day author who stated it was her favorite quote by Wordsworth.  I say “sadly” because even the educated ranks have been infiltrated with the vast quantity of repeated erroneous information on the internet.  This author is a member of the literary community, yet she is proliferating false literary information.  Unfortunately, in my research I have encountered many university papers and books written by professors containing misquotes.  This indicates that even scholars cannot be trusted with quotes.  To reiterate, if the quote is not accompanied by detailed source information such as book title and chapter or play title with act and scene, it should not be considered reliable.

Replication of Misinformation

One item of note is that the informational websites making up the 24% featuring the misquote are all either English dictionary websites or translation websites from various languages into English.  This demonstrates that, much like quote websites, these dictionary websites have all replicated each other with the same misinformation.  It’s a shame that these websites, which have a great educational purpose, lose credibility because the content has not been checked for integrity.

Books

The books I found that contain the misquote are all books dedicated solely to quotes.  They were published beginning in the 1800s up to present day.  Most likely the modern-day books copied content found in previous quote books, resulting in the propagation of erroneous information.  If you are going to use a quote book, make sure it is one that includes not only the author/orator’s name but also source information for each quote such as the book, chapter, play, act, scene, poem, line number, speech date and location, etc.

For Sale

As a final note, this misquote is available for purchase.  For $120.74, you can have your own trinket box featuring flawed information to be handed down generation after generation.

Kill the Quote Virus

To learn how you can avoid fake quotes, visit my “What You Can Do” page.  To help extinguish the quote virus, share the information with your family and friends, and “like” my Sue Brewton Author Facebook page.

“Be the antidote and don’t misquote.”

©Sue Brewton

John Milton vs. Francis Bacon

Today’s topic is about a quote that is often found falsely attributed to John Milton.  It is popular across the internet and in modern books.

The Misattributed Quote

“He that studieth revenge keepeth his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.”
John Milton

The Correct Quote

“A man that studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal, and do well.”
Francis Bacon
“Of Revenge”
The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral

The Reliable Version

Please note there are two versions of this quote by Francis Bacon.  The more reliable quote begins with the words “A man that” and is found in the essay “Of Revenge” in the book The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral written by Bacon.  Here is the quote found in the book:

The Quote Found in the Essay “Of Revenge” in the Book, The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral, by Francis Bacon

The Quote Found in the Essay “Of Revenge” in the Book, The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral, by Francis Bacon

Here is the title page of the book:

Title Page of the Book, The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral, by Francis Bacon

Title Page of the Book, The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral, by Francis Bacon

The Unreliable Version

The quote that begins “He that” was first printed in Baconiana magazine in 1679 under the title Ornamenta Rationalia.  Here is the Baconiana cover page:

Title Page of the 1679 edition of Baconiana Magazine

Title Page of the 1679 edition of Baconiana Magazine

Ornamenta Rationalia is a list of sayings, some made by Bacon and some collected by Bacon from Publius Syrus.  However, it was not expressly written by Bacon but was compiled for the magazine from some of his notes that were collected posthumously.  Here is the title page featuring the publisher’s note:

The Publisher’s Note Found in "Ornamenta Rationalia" Stating It Was Not Expressly Written by Francis Bacon

The Publisher’s Note Found in “Ornamenta Rationalia” Stating It Was Not Expressly Written by Francis Bacon

As the above title page shows, the first part of Ornamenta Rationalia is a collection of sayings from the ancient Latin writer Publius Syrus (correct spelling is Publilius Syrus) which were collected by Bacon.  The second part is a collection of sayings taken from some of Bacon’s writings.  Some of the sentences are verbatim and some are not.  This particular quote is not verbatim as it begins with the words, “He that.”  Here is the quote from Ornamenta Rationalia:

The quote found in "Ornamenta Rationalia." Note the wording is altered, and the second half of the quote is missing.

The quote found in “Ornamenta Rationalia.” Note the wording is altered, and the second half of the quote is missing.

The above excerpt also shows that the latter part of the quote, “which otherwise would heal, and do well,” is deleted.  Since this version was published posthumously and was compiled by someone other than Bacon, it is not the reliable version.  Fortunately, the meaning is not altered by the rewording, but if you’re looking for the exact quote, use the one from the “Of Revenge” essay from the book The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral written by Bacon and published during his life time.

Statistics

Once again, the quote virus is at work spreading infected information across the universe.  After perusing 95 websites featuring this Francis Bacon quote incorrectly attributed to John Milton, here is what I found:

PercentageType of Website
43%    Quotes-only
15%    Discussion forums
15%    Social media
12%    Informational (politics, newspapers, magazines, etc.)
8%     Quotes a major feature
4%     Corporate individuals or companies
2%     Academic/educational
1%     Quotes paraphernalia for purchase

As usual, it is the websites specializing in quotes only that make up the largest percentage of misquote offenders.  Hmm . . . there seems to be a pattern here.  If you go back and read all of my previous blog posts, you will see that ALL of them report this same result.  The disturbing thing is that the number of quote websites is growing.  Every three to four months, I notice new quote websites rearing their ugly heads.  After researching quotes for four years, I am very familiar with the names of most of these sites, so when a new one pops up, I spot it immediately.  As a side note, I have noticed that a lot of these sites contain pages that are exact copies of pages from other quote websites, meaning the quotes are in the exact same order featuring the exact same misquotes and the exact same typos.  The bottom line is that a website that specializes in quotes is typically the worst place to get reliable quotes.  This doesn’t make sense, but it seems to be the case.

Contemporary Authors Are Another Source of Misquote Propagation

This misquote is also featured in at least two books of quote collections published in the 21st century.  I also found it in five non-quote books, usually at the beginning of a chapter.

Unfortunately, modern authors use quote websites as a resource to find quotes to include in their books.  So when they inadvertently cite a misquote, their book becomes a new source of quote contamination and helps to perpetuate the spread of this misinformation.

Educators Are Another Source of Misquote Propagation

Some modern-day educators also use quote websites as a resource for quotes to include in their educational literature.  This creates a double jeopardy situation because most people assume if the information is coming from an educator or educational institution, it is accurate.  However, in my research, I have come across misquotes featured on university websites as well as in theses, papers, and books written by professors.  This doesn’t occur often, but it is still disappointing that academic sources like these can contribute to misquote proliferation.

Most Disappointing Find

Another disappointing place where this misquote occurs is on a website offering free books online.  Their John Milton page includes a biography about Milton as well as a list of quotes by him.  Unfortunately, the quote list includes this misquote.  Obviously whoever created this page did not actually read Milton’s books and probably copied the quotes from another source without verifying them.  This is a shame because the overall purpose of this website is meaningful and extremely beneficial; to have a free treasure trove of great literature at your finger tips any time you want it is invaluable.  It is unfortunate that what could be a great educational resource is marred by inaccurate information.

For Sale

Finally, on a lighter note, if you are interested in purchasing flawed merchandise, today’s misquote can be found for sale on the internet.  That’s right folks.  For just $31.95 you can have your own misquote coffee mug.  What a bargain!

Help Kill the Quote Virus

I will conclude with another plea to help stop the madness.  Please share this blog post and/or share my “What You Can Do” page.  Every little bit of shared knowledge makes a difference.

“Be the antidote and don’t misquote.”

©Sue Brewton

Another Erroneous Inspirational Quote—Another Method of Origin

Today’s post is about a motivational quote which can be found across the internet falsely attributed to Mark Twain.  Because it currently only appears on a handful of websites, I normally wouldn’t write about it; however, the method by which it is born is unique from all my previous posts and warrants at least a brief discussion.

The Misattributed Quote 

“Courage and perseverance will accomplish success.”
Mark Twain

The Correct Quote

“Courage and perseverance will accomplish success.”
Samuel Watson Royston
“The Enemy Conquered”

The Correct Source

The true source of this quote is the short story “The Enemy Conquered” by Samuel Watson Royston.  Here is the title page:

The Title Page of the Correct Source of the Quote

The Title Page of the Correct Source of the Quote

Here is the quote found in the book:

The Quote Found in "The Enemy Conquered" by Samuel Watson Royston

The Quote Found in “The Enemy Conquered” by Samuel Watson Royston

The Cause of the Misattribution

This quote gets misattributed to Mark Twain because he includes Samuel Watson Royston’s entire short story within his own book The £1,000,000 Bank-Note and Other New Stories.  A perusal of the table of contents would lead one to believe Twain is the author of the story as it does not include a reference to Royston; however, if time is taken to actually read the book, one would find the story is prefaced with a statement by Twain explaining why he included it in his book.  Here is the statement:

Introduction to Royston’s Short Story Where Mark Twain Explains Why He Included It in His Book

Introduction to Royston’s Short Story Where Mark Twain Explains Why He Included It in His Book

Essentially, Twain was compelled to include the work in its entirety to support his scathing critique of it.  The review is so unflattering that he substitutes Royston’s name with G. Ragsdale McClintock.  Here is the disclaimer:

Disclaimer Stating the Name G. Ragsdale McClintock Is a Substitute for the Real Author’s Name

Disclaimer Stating the Name G. Ragsdale McClintock Is a Substitute for the Real Author’s Name

Twain titled the review “A Cure for the Blues” insinuating the work’s inferior style of writing will provide the reader with a laugh.  Obviously, his description of it as a “great work” is sarcastic and not meant to be taken seriously.

This particular misquote was probably initiated by someone who did not actually read the book and assumed all the contents were written by Twain.  Oddly enough, all the websites featuring this misquote are literary in nature except for one which was a blog.  One audio book website actually created a fake, distressed book cover with the title The Curious Book:  A Love Story by Mark Twain.  The surprising thing is that they used the title Twain used to explain why he included another author’s work (see the previous “The Curious Book Complete” image).  One wonders how this could have been overlooked by people who are supposedly avid readers and book enthusiasts.  Clearly no one actually read the book. What a disappointment.

Beware of Anthologies

Although the cause of this type of misquote is not common, I have definitely encountered it more than once in my four years of research.  It usually evolves from books that are collections of works by multiple authors in a particular category.  For example, a book may be an anthology of English poets, and a misquote will arise due to the reader/quoter not double checking which author’s work the quote came from, and as a result William Wordsworth will be credited with words that were actually written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning or some other poet found in the collection.  And, as I have discussed in all my previous posts, just one person publishing a misquote on the internet or in a book will result in propagation of it.

Help Kill the Quote Virus

I will once again conclude with a plea to always get your quotes from a reliable source.  If you cannot find the quote from accompanying detailed source information, do not trust it.  Be especially wary of quotes from internet sources.  As today’s misquote demonstrates, even literary and educational websites are not infallible.  Avoid the quote virus by only using verified quotes.  And remember to

“Be the Antidote and Don’t Misquote.”

©Sue Brewton

Kennedy Morphs into Keats: Another Reason to Get Your Inspirational Quotes from a Reliable Source

The topic of today’s post is an inspirational quote that is often misattributed and sometimes misworded.  Follow along as it twists and turns it way around five different people.

The Misattributed Quote and Its Variations

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities.  We need men who can dream of things that never were.”
John Keats

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities.  We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not.”
Spencer W. Kimball

The Correct Quote

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities.  We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not.”
John F. Kennedy
Speech to the Irish Parliament
Dublin, Ireland
June 28, 1963

Note:  The second sentence of the quote is actually the root of another misquote where George Bernard Shaw morphs into two different Kennedys.  I will discuss that saga below in Part II.

Here is the excerpt from the transcript of John F. Kennedy’s speech:

The Quote Found in the Transcript of John F. Kennedy’s Speech to the Irish Parliament on June 28, 1963

The Quote Found in the Transcript of John F. Kennedy’s Speech to the Irish Parliament on June 28, 1963

Both the transcript and the audio recording of this speech can be found on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum website (jfklibrary.org).

The quote can be heard 17 minutes and 19 seconds into the audio recording.

Statistics

The quote virus is working overtime on this one.  I surveyed 73 websites featuring this misquote, and gathered the following statistics:

PercentageType of Website
46%    Quotes-only
14%    Quotes a major feature
31%    Social media
9%     Business or educational institution

The Sources of the Misattribution

As usual, it is the websites dedicated solely to quotes combined with websites presenting quotes as a major feature that make up the largest percentage.  I know I sound like a broken record, but I must reiterate:  never trust a quote that is not from a reliable source.  Just because a website specializes in quotes does not mean it is reliable.  Be extra cautious if the website allows random visitors to add quotes to its collection; these sites are the most notorious for inaccurate quotes.  Make sure detailed source information accompanies the quote.  The name attribution alone is not sufficient.  The information should provide enough detail to enable the reader to easily look it up.

Books

As usual, I found books containing the misquote as well.  There are at least four, and all were published in the recent 2000s.  One is a quotes collection book.  And much like websites, just because a book specializes in quotes does not mean it is reliable.  Before purchasing a quote book, make sure detailed source information is provided for each quote.

Why I Call It a Quote Virus

To illustrate why I call this phenomenon a quote virus, I randomly picked three of the blogs that displayed reblog statistics and counted them.  The first one had 44 reblogs; the second one had 693, and the third one had 730 reblogs.  This is a perfect demonstration of how the quote virus propagates.  In this sample, one person spread the infected quote to 730 people, and those people spread the infection to their followers, and so on and so forth.  I hate to be the ant at the picnic, but never trust a quote that was forwarded to you from a friend on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.  There is a good possibility it is contaminated.

Because the quote virus branched out into two mutations on today’s quote, I’ll have to address it in two parts.  The first part will cover the quote as a whole.  The second part will cover the second sentence only.

Part I – The Entire Quote and Its Causes of Misattribution

The quote as a whole is mostly misattributed to John Keats, but it can also be found misattributed to Spencer W. Kimball, a Mormon leader.  Between the two, it is understandable how Kimball became involved with this quote, which I will explain.  However, how John Keats got connected with it is a conundrum. . . Well, maybe it isn’t.  I have a conjecture about this.  Note the similarity in the names John Keats and John Kennedy.  I suspect that a quote website administrator was copying quotes from an alphabetized list in which Keats occurred just prior to Kennedy, and when the list transitioned from Keats to Kennedy, the transcriptionist did not double check to ensure the quote entered corresponded with the correct person.  And from there, the quote virus took over and spread this misquote all over the universe.  This may sound far-fetched, but I have observed this alphabetical correlation with other misquotes.  I could definitely be off my rocker on this, but I have a feeling I’m not.

The second person associated with this quote is Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985).  He was a leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who made his “Education for Eternity” speech on September 12, 1967 to Brigham Young University faculty and staff.  In this speech, he correctly credits George Bernard Shaw for the line that begins, “see things and. . . say ‘Why’.”  But he incorrectly appends Kennedy’s line that begins, “We need people. . .”  He slightly paraphrases, but it is clear he used Kennedy’s speech as the source for this quote as he prefaces the quote as Kennedy did with the words, “summed up an approach to life.”  Here is the excerpt of Kimball’s speech found on the BYU Faculty Center website (fc.byu.edu):

Excerpt from Spencer W. Kimball’s Speech Showing How He Merged the Words of Kennedy and Shaw

Excerpt from Spencer W. Kimball’s Speech Showing How He Merged the Words of Kennedy and Shaw

Even though Kimball credits Shaw, albeit inaccurately, the quote continues to be misattributed to Kimball.  Additionally, this misquote can be found in other locations on the BYU website which means it will most likely continue to propagate.  But wait . . . the plot thickens.  Over the years, Kimball’s version of the merged Shaw/Kennedy quote has transformed into Kennedy’s original quote, so now Kimball is also credited with Kennedy’s exact words.  This misquote appears to be spreading throughout the Mormon community.  Not only is there a blog by a trio of Mormons that credits Kimball with John F. Kennedy’s exact words but there is a 2009 book about Mormonism with the same misattribution.  Who knew Kennedy could also morph into Kimball?  What a guy!  Let’s hope the quote virus doesn’t infect all the Latter-day Saints.

Part II – How Shaw Morphs into Two Different Kennedys

When Kennedy said, “We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not,” he was referencing a line from a play by George Bernard Shaw.  The first line of the transcript image of John F. Kennedy’s speech above shows that he gives full credit to Shaw for saying other people “see things and . . . say ‘why?’ . . . But I dream things that never were—and I say:  ‘Why not?’”  This line is from part I, act I of Shaw’s play Back to Methuselah.  The first act takes place in the Garden of Eden where the Serpent says this line to Eve.  Here is the excerpt:

Excerpt from Part I, Act I of George Bernard Shaw’s Play, Back to Methuselah, Showing He is the Correct Author

Excerpt from Part I, Act I of George Bernard Shaw’s Play, Back to Methuselah, Showing He is the Correct Author

Because the line “I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’” is used in John F. Kennedy’s speech, it is often misattributed to him even though he credits Shaw.

To make things even more confusing, Robert F. Kennedy also included the line in some of his speeches.  Even though he too credits Shaw, the quote is still commonly misattributed to Kennedy.  For example, here is an excerpt from his speech delivered at the University of Kansas, March 18, 1968:

Transcript of One of Robert F. Kennedy’s Speeches Showing He Correctly Attributes George Bernard Shaw

Transcript of One of Robert F. Kennedy’s Speeches Showing He Correctly Attributes George Bernard Shaw

This transcript is found on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum website (jfklibrary.org).

I suspect the reason Robert F. Kennedy is more often misattributed to these words is partly due to Edward Kennedy’s eulogy delivered at Robert’s funeral.  In it Edward cites the line but does not credit Shaw which further reinforces the misconception that Robert was the originator.  Here is the excerpt of the eulogy delivered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City, June 8, 1968:

Excerpt of Edward Kennedy’s Eulogy Showing He Incorrectly Attributes the Quote to Robert F. Kennedy

Excerpt of Edward Kennedy’s Eulogy Showing He Incorrectly Attributes the Quote to Robert F. Kennedy

This transcript is found on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum website (jfklibrary.org).

These final lines of the eulogy are correct in that Robert F. Kennedy did indeed say these words within a speech, but they are misleading as they don’t convey that he was quoting Shaw when he said them.

Theodore “Ted” Sorensen (1928–2010)

Because history has proven that it is the orator and not the writer who is celebrated for the memorable words that are born of brilliant oratory, I want to acknowledge Theodore “Ted” Sorensen.  He was John F. Kennedy’s primary speechwriter and played a key role in forming the Kennedy image and legacy.  Not only was he the man behind many of Kennedy’s most memorable lines, but he was an integral part of the administration serving as the president’s special counsel and adviser.

Help Kill the Quote Virus

Once again, we have a serious case of the quote virus infection.  In this episode, the virus splits into different forms.  First John F. Kennedy morphs into John Keats and Spencer W. Kimball; then George Bernard Shaw morphs into Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy.  Sadly, there is no vaccine for this modern-day pestilence.  Only you, dear reader, can help stop the spread of this sickness.  Share the knowledge with your friends and family.  E-mail this post to them.  E-mail my website link to them.  Refer them to my “What You Can Do” page.  Practice safe quoting by only using verified quotes.  And finally, repeat my newest motto:

“Be the antidote and don’t misquote.”

©Sue Brewton