A good quote can change the way you see your life, can give you a boost when you need it, can act like a friend when you need one. Famous people’s wise words have traveled through history, some have forever been engraved in our collective memory, but many of the quotes we associate with a specific celebrity, even the famous, “Luke, I am your father,” may not be accurate at all!
Don’t believe everything you read. Faulty memories, promiscuous copying, Chinese whispers, inaccuracies, or misinterpretations in translations, have left many quotes attributed to the wrong author or as inventions of other writers with plenty of time to hone their prose. From Einstein to Darth Vader, this issue concerns the greatest philosophers as well as heroes of pop culture.
For example, did you know that the famous line “Luke, I am your father” never appeared in the Star Wars script? And once you stumble across a few of these bogus quotations, you can’t stop finding more.
Here are 18 famous misquotes that everyone has heard at least once, but which are wrong or misattributed. Check for yourself if you know who the authors of these famous misquote really are!
1. “The end justifies the means.”
“The end justifies the means” is often attributed to Nicolas Machiavelli’s The Prince. However, although Machiavelli – an Italian philosopher, writer, and politician – expressed similar thoughts in his writings, this expression does not come from him. The supposed origin of this phrase is believed to come from the cycle of poetic epistles, Heroes, by the ancient Roman poet Ovid. It is also thought that this quotation could belong to the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, or to the founder of the Jesuit order, Ignacio de Loyola.
2. “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.”
Frequently attributed to Spock, or Leonard McCoy, from the original series of Star Trek, but this phrase was never once uttered in any episode. A similar phrase “not life as we know it” is spoken by Spock in the season one episode titled “The Devil in the Dark”. The spurious phrase – sung rather than spoken by Spock – originated in the 1987 novelty song “Star Trekkin” by The Firm. Spock’s other oft misquoted line from the same song is “It’s worse than that, he’s dead, Jim!”
3. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Throughout his life the political and public figure, Mahatma Gandhi, uttered many sentences of profound wisdom, this one is not his own. Perhaps he expressed similar thoughts, but Gandhi died in 1948, and the first mention of this phrase in the form we know it appeared only in 1974, in the book The Love Principles, written by teacher Arleen Lorrans.
4. “Money is the root of all evil.”
Actually, the quote, “money is the root of all evil” is incorrect. The origin of this expression comes from the Bible, but the exact phrase can be found in the 1 Timothy, and has a slightly different meaning, translating more like: “For the love of money is the root of all evil”. Thus, this famous phrase is only partially complete, but it is not an exact quotation from it.
5. “Luke, I am your father.”
That’s right! The “Luke, I am your father” quote, one of the most famous sentences of Star Wars and probably of the history of cinema is, unfortunately, part of our list of “I never said that”! This is one of the cases where an incorrect quote has become more popular than the original one. In fact, Darth Vader didn’t say it like that. He said, “No, I am your father.”
6. “Houston, we have a problem.”
In the Apollo 13 movie about this mission, we hear Tom Hanks – playing Apollo 13 commander, Jim Lovell – say “Houston, we have a problem.” Most of us think this sentence was actually spoken by Commander Lovell, but the official NASA chronology shows it was fellow astronaut Jack Swigert, who used the almost identical words “Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a main B bus undervolt.”
7. “Sometimes a cigar is nothing but a cigar.”
“Sometimes a cigar is nothing but a cigar” is frequently attributed to the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, but there is no confirmation of its origin. The first mention of this sentence appeared in the 1950s, more than a dozen years after Freud’s death.
8. “Let them eat cake”
“Let them eat cake” is the traditional translation of the French phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” Demonstrating a significant disregard for the peasants' predicament during a famine, the quote was first attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette, wife of the then King, Louis XVI. The year was 1789, the year of the French Revolution, and was probably Fakenews as there is no reliable record of her actually having said it.
9. “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This misquote hearkens back to the British Lord Acton, a 19th-century English historian who was commenting about tyrannical monarchs (Caesar, Henry VIII, Napoleon, various Russian tsars, etc.). Lord Acton actually wrote: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
10. “And you, my son?”
Some people mistakenly think “And you, my son” were Julius Caesar’s last words to his murderer, Marcus Brutus. However, this is just a quote from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Moreover, the very meaning of this expression is also often misinterpreted, for it is mistakenly thought to be an expression of surprise, when in fact the real meaning was different, meaning “You shall be next.”
11. “Beam me up, Scotty”
“Beam me up, Scotty, another famous misquote from Star Trek, this time from Captain James T. Kirk, also known as William Shatner. Just like “Spock’s most famous lines, this was never said during the run of the original Star Trek series. A variation of this quote “Beam us up, Scotty” made an appearance in Star Trek: The Animated Series and the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home included the closest other variation: “Scotty, beam me up.” James Doohan, the actor who played Scotty, chose “Beam me up, Scotty” as the title of his 1996 autobiography.
12. “The eyes are the mirror of the soul.”
“The eyes are the mirror of the soul.” This famous misquote is often attributed to the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, but in fact, it is a Latin proverb that has been translated into many languages. Its true author is unknown. It’s also a song title by Chris de Burgh.
13. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”
This quote has been attributed to several sources, including Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain. It may have first appeared in Rita Mae Brown’s book, Sudden Death, published in January 1983.
14. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
This phrase, widely cited as a Nelson Mandela quote, was actually written by Marianne Williamson – author, self-help guru, and spiritual advisor to Oprah – from her best-selling 1992 self-help book, A Return to Love. If you got this wrong you’re in good company, In 1998, the New York Times reported that Hillary Clinton, astronaut Mae C. Jemison, and former Spelman College president Johnnetta B. Cole had all misattributed Williamson’s “deepest fear” passage during graduation speeches — to Nelson Mandela.
15. “Two things are infinite: The universe and human stupidity.”
“Two things are infinite: The universe and human stupidity.” This expression, which has become very popular, is often attributed to Albert Einstein, and sometimes to the American musician Frank Zappa. In fact, this expression belongs to Harlan Ellison, an American writer of science fiction novels.
16. “Bikinis, as well as being empowering, they are just so darn comfortable and practical – at the beach or for fighting dinosaurs.”
Raquel Welch’s fur bikini publicity still for the 1966 movie “One Million Years B.C.” raised her stature as a leading sex symbol of the era. The photograph became something of a cultural phenomenon and arguably did better than the movie itself. As comfortable as Ms. Welch appears in that bikini, there is no record of her actually recommending her swimwear for those dual purposes.
17. “Don’t worry, be happy.”
Many of us think the author of the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is Bob Marley – there are versions of the song on Youtube with Bob Marley’s picture on the upload. But, the song was first written and performed by musician Bobby McFerrin seven years after Bob Marley’s death in 1988; the same year, the song became a hit, remaining at the top of the charts for two weeks. Even though the song was from the 1980s, the expression itself was often used on motivational posters and postcards since the 1960s.
18. “I may be drunk, Bessie, but you are ugly, and tomorrow I shall be sober.”
Some say that when a member of the Labour Party, Bessie Braddock, accused Winston Churchill of being drunk, he responded with this very ingenious insult. However, there is no evidence that he actually owned that line. Moreover, this scathing line has often been attributed to other famous people of the time.
19. “640 KB of memory should be enough for anyone.”
The sentence, “640 KB of memory should be enough for anyone,” is believed to have been uttered by Bill Gates in 1981. However, he denied it: “I have said some stupid things and made some mistakes in my life, but this was not one of them. No one in the computer world would ever say that there’s enough memory.”
And that’s not the only misattributed phrase, “Be nice to nerds because you might end up working for one.” In fact, Bill Gates never said that either.
So, which one of these quotes is your favorite? Do you know any others, right or wrong, that you think are universal and legendary? Leave a message in the comments, and don’t hesitate to share this article with your friends and family! And don’t forget, don’t believe everything you read!
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