Thursday, March 09, 2006


This post consists of things that many people think are correct quotes but are actually incorrect. This does not include quotes that were actually blunders by the people that said them.

"Beam me up, Scotty"

  • Notes: From the Star Trek science-fiction TV series. Several variants of this do occur in the series, such as "Beam me aboard," or "Two to beam up", but "Beam me up, Scotty" was never said during the run of the original Star Trek series. However, the quote "Beam me up, Scotty" was uttered in the Star Trek animated series that aired in 1973-74. The movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home included the closest other variation: "Scotty, beam me up."

"Just the facts, Ma'am."

  • Notes: This, the best known quote from the Jack Webb series Dragnet, was never said by Sgt. Friday in any of the Dragnet radio or television series.

"Religion is the opiate of the masses."
~ Karl Marx

  • Correct quote: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." Marx's intended meaning is subtler than the misquote would suggest.

"Blood, Sweat and Tears"
~ Winston Churchill

  • Correct quote: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat."
  • The quote appeared in the book Metropolis, written by Thea von Harbou (wife of Metropolis director Fritz Lang), first published in 1926. The text, describing Joh Frederson who has just finished his first day working to keep the machines of Metropolis alive, states, "He tasted a salty taste on his lips, and did not know if it was from blood, sweat, or tears."

"Damn it, Jim! I'm a doctor not a..."

  • McCoy had several lines of this sort, except that he never said "damn it". Only one "swear word" was ever uttered on the original Star Trek series (i.e. prior to the movies) and it was by Kirk: "Let's get the hell outta here."

"Elementary, my dear Watson"

  • Correct quote: Though "Elementary," and " dear Watson." both do appear in the beginning of The Crooked Man, it is the " dear Watson" that appears first and the "Elementary" said by Holmes is a reply to Watson's exclamation just one turn of dialogue later. This is the closest these four immortal words ever appear together in the canon. ~ Sherlock Holmes
  • Notes: According to the Sherlock Holmes series of books, the expression was uttered in some derivative works such as Sherlock Holmes films and television programmes.

"Et tu, Brute ?" or "Et tu, Brutus ?"

  • Translation: You too, Brutus?
  • Note: The second one is incorrect Latin grammar, as it didn't correctly use the vocative case.
  • "Et tu, Brute?" is an accurate quotation of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. He renders as Latin in an English play what was originally quoted as Greek spoken by a Roman.
  • Also translated as "And you, Brutus?"
  • A better translation would be "Even you, Brutus?", as "et" in this instance is used as an intensive adverb to express something unexpected, rather than as a conjuction.
  • Correct quote: "Kai su, teknon?" (quoted by Suetonius)
  • Translation from the Greek: "You too, my child?"
  • Note: It is very unlikely that Caesar actually said these words.

"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend me your ears."
~ William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar)

  • Note: The quote is often attributed to Julius Caesar; it was actually said by the character Antony in the play Julius Caesar.

"Lead on, Macduff"

  • Correct quote: "Lay on, Macduff, and damned be him who first cries "Hold! enough!"
    ~ William Shakespeare (Macbeth)

"Bubble bubble, toil and trouble."

  • Correct quote: "Double double, toil and trouble."
    ~ William Shakespeare (Macbeth)
  • Notes: It is worth mentioning that the line following this quote reads "Fire burn and cauldron bubble"; if the first line had indeed read "Bubble, bubble (etc)", the second line would sound redundant. If this is kept in mind, accidental misquotations can be avoided.

"Me Tarzan, you Jane."

  • Occurs in none of the Tarzan films nor in the book by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Occured in an interview with the actor of Tarzan in the films, saying this is as complicated as his dialogue got.

"Methinks the lady doth protest too much"

  • Correct quote: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks"
    ~ William Shakespeare (Hamlet)
  • In this case, "protest" means more of "proclaim" than "argue against".

"Money is the root of all evil."

  • Correct quote: "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." (I Timothy 6:10 King James Version)
  • Many translations render what the KJV renders as "the root" (originally ριζα) as "a root" or "at the root" and "all evil" (πας κακος) as "all sorts of evil" or "all kinds of evil". (See also translations in New International Version, New American Standard Bible, New Living Translation.) All translations agree that it is the love of money, rather than money itself, that is associated with evil.

"Now is the winter of our discontent."

  • In context: "Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York."
    ~ William Shakespeare (Richard III)
  • Notes: This is a misquotation because, despite the same word order, the grammar of the quotation is different from the grammar of the original, and hence the meaning lost. As misquoted, is is the main verb, and the phrase means, "The winter of our discontent is happening now." In the full quote, is is a helper verb, and might be repositioned in modern usage to clarify the meaning: "Now the winter of our discontent is made glorious summer by this son of York."

"Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him well."

  • Correct quote: "Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio - a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy."
    ~ William Shakespeare (Hamlet, Act V, Scene I)

"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

  • Alternative: "We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us."
  • Notes: allegedly said by George Orwell although there is no evidence that Orwell ever wrote or uttered either of these versions of this idea. They do bear some similarity to comments made in an essay that Orwell wrote on Rudyard Kipling, when quoting from one of his poems.
  • "Yes, making mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep" - Rudyard Kipling (Tommy)
  • "I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it." - Jack Nicholson (A Few Good Men)

"Play it again, Sam"

  • Actual quote: "Play it Sam, for old times' sake, play 'As Time Goes By'."
    ~ Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca)
  • Actual quote: "You played it for her, you can play it for me. ... If she can stand it, I can! Play it!"
    ~ Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca)
  • Note: Woody Allen paid homage to Casablanca under the title Play It Again, Sam, which is likely the source of much such misquotation.
  • The line first occurred in the Marx Brothers' film A Night in Casablanca (1946), another possible source of the misquotation.

"Someone set us up the bomb"

  • Correct quote: "Somebody set up us the bomb"
  • Notes: From a Japanese video game, Zero Wing, with a very unskilled and amusing English translation. Similar to "all your base are belong to us".

"The rest is science"

  • Correct quote: "The rest is silence"
    ~ William Shakespeare (Hamlet)
  • Notes: This phrase may also be used as a play on words, or even plain prose, as when Steve Swallow, the jazz musician, said about jazz composition, "Eventually, an idea always comes, and then the rest is science."

"To gild the lily"

  • Correct quote: "To gild refined gold, to paint the lily"
    ~ William Shakespeare (The Life and Death of King John, Act IV, Scene II, line 13)

"Why don't you come up and see me sometime?"

  • Correct quote: "Why don't you come up sometime and see me?"
    ~ Mae West (She Done Him Wrong)
  • This quote is actually correct: Mae West said "Why don't you come up sometime and see me?" in She Done Him Wrong, but she switched the word order in her next film, I'm No Angel, where she actually does say "Come up and see me sometime" (albeit without the "Why don't" part).
  • A mechanical mouse in a Tom and Jerry cartoon repeated "come up and see me sometime".

"I am not a crook"
~ Richard Nixon

  • Often attributed to his denial of any foreknowledge of the Watergate break-in, when in fact the question raised in a Press Conference was about his personal finances.

"Luke, I am your father."

  • Correct quote: "No. I am your father."
    ~ Darth Vader, Star Wars Episode V:The Empire Strikes Back
  • Notes: Said in response to Luke Skywalker's accusation about his father's death: "He told me enough! He told me you killed him!" Although the accent is on the I, it is also often misquoted with the am having the accent. The dialogue is also often misquoted as Luke saying, "ll never join you! You killed my father!" and Vader saying, "No Luke, I am your father."

"You dirty rat!"

  • Never said by James Cagney in any film.
  • Also quoted in the 1934 Cole Porter musical "Anything Goes"

"Pride goeth before a fall"

  • Correct quote: "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall"
    ~ Bible (King James Version), Proverbs 16:18

"The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash."

  • Winston Churchill's personal secretary, Anthony Montague-Browne, said that although Churchill did not say this, he wished he had.

"A language is a dialect with a Navy."

  • This was not said by Otto von Bismarck, but rather by the linguist Max Weinreich or his student Joshua Fishman, who actually said "A shprakh iz a diyalekt mit an armey un a flot" (in English: "A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.")

"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality", or a variation on that.

  • This was stated by John F. Kennedy and attributed by him to Dante. However, in the Divine Comedy those who "non furon ribelli né fur fedeli" - neither rebelled against nor were faithful to God - are located directly inside the gate of Hell, a region neither hot nor cold; the lowest part of Hell, a frigid lake of ice, was for traitors. The actual quote from Dante is, "The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."

"A damn close run thing"
~ Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, refering to his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo.

  • He actually said "It has been a damn nice thing-the nearest run thing you ever saw...", where he used nice in the archaic meaning of "careful or precise" and not the modern "attractive or agreeable".

"Do you feel lucky, punk?"
~ Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry

  • Correct quote plus context: "Ah-ah, I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking, 'Did he fire six shots or only five?' And to tell you the truth, I've forgotten myself in all this excitement. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, PUNK?"

"Whenever I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my revolver."

  • The actual quote is "Wenn ich Kultur höre ... entsichere ich meinen Browning". Which translates as: "Whenever I hear [the word] 'culture'... I release the safety-catch of my Browning!"
  • This quote is often mistakenly attributed to leading Nazi Hermann Goering, or occasionally to Julius Streicher, a lower-ranking Nazi. In fact, it's a line uttered by the character Thiemann in Act 1, Scene 1 of the play Schlageter, written by Hanns Johst. The association with Nazism is appropriate, as the play was first performed in April 1933, in honor of Hitler's birthday.
  • Notes: It's possible that this is actually a rather more felicitous phrase in translation than it is in the original. Both the original German and this more elegant English translation were juxtaposed by Howard Thomas in his review of an article by Nicholas H Battey in the Journal of Experimental Biology, December 2002, as "the famous words of Hanns Johst: 'Wenn ich Kultur höre ... entsichere ich meinen Browning' - 'Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver.'"

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned"

  • The correct quotation is "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned/ Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." by William Congreve in The Mourning Bride of 1697.

"Don't fire till you see the whites of their eyes."

  • This quotation is usually attributed to Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans.
  • In fact, it originates with Israel Putnam, a general in George Washington's Continental Army, at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The full quotation is, "Don't fire till you see the whites of their eyes. Then, fire low."

"Kismet Hardy / Kiss me, Hardy"
~ British Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson

  • Nelson is rumoured to have said "Kismet Hardy" or "Kiss me, Hardy" whilst he was dying. Kismet means Fate. However, the OED gives the earliest use in the English language of "kismet" as 1849. Nelson did say Kiss me, Hardy to his Flag Captain, Thomas Masterman Hardy, but they were not his final words, and Hardy was not present at Nelson's death. Nelson's actual final words (related by Victory's Surgeon William Beatty, who was with him when he died) were "Thank God, I have done my duty".

"'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing"
~ Edmund Burke

  • The above is most likely a summary of the following quote in Burke's "Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents": "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
  • Also attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville .

"'We don't need no steenking badges!"
~ Bandit in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

  • The correct quote is "Badges? We ain't got no badges! We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!"
  • This quote is actually from the film Blazing Saddles, in an obvious spoof of the original source. When the newly recruited Mexican Bandits are presented badges for their participation in the upcoming raid on the town of Rock Ridge, the leader responds with: "Badges? We don't need no stinking badges."
  • There is also another spoof of this quote in the movie UHF (starring Weird Al Yankovic) that goes "Badgers! Badgers! We don't need no stinking badgers! "
  • Another takeoff on this quote takes place in the 1985 movie Gotcha! starring Anthony Edwards and Linda Fiorentino. Edwards' character's best friend in college Manolo used to run with a gang in L.A. With the CIA (playing the part of the clueless bureaucratic machine) hot on his trail, Edwards asks his friend if the gang could give him a little help in shaking the CIA. In an amusing confrontation between the CIA and the gang members, the agents pull out their badges, and the best friend responds with "Don't show me your badges. We don't know nothing about no stinking badges." One of the CIA agents responds with "Look, we're not playing games here, greaseball!" as the two agents level their guns on Manolo. To which Manolo replies "Neither are we, Amigo." And on cue 20-some gangbangers packing heat level their guns on the CIA. The CIA agent says "Jesus! You son of a bitch!" And Manolo not missing a beat responds "Remember the Alamo?"

"Spare the rod, spoil the child"

  • There are numerous proverbs dealing with the subject of discipline in childrearing, but this is the closest: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes."
    ~ Bible (King James Version), Proverbs 13:24

"Crisis? What crisis?"
~ British Prime Minister James Callaghan

  • This was a headline from The Sun newspaper. Callaghan actually said: "I don’t think other people in the world would share the view there is mounting chaos."

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

  • This quote is often attributed to Sigmund Freud to show that even that a famous psychoanalyst can admit that not everything has a profound meaning; it was allegedly made after giving a prolonged lecture or essay about the symbol of a cigar in a dream. No variation of this quote ever appears in his writings, however, and it goes completely against his psychoanalytic theories. He believed that every element of every dream has deep significance: he'd never suggest that a dream image could be random.
  • Attributed to Sigmund Freud. The story goes that, during a lecture on oral fixation, a student asked whether Freud's chain-smoking of cigars was evidence of an oral fixation. Freud supposedly denied this with the above quote and stormed out of the hall, without finishing the lecture. This quote is ironic in this context because it suggests Freud's use of the basic defense mechanism of denial, which he outlined.

"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words."

  • Often attributed to Francis of Assisi, the origin of this quote is unknown, but it certainly is concordant with St. Francis's theology.

"Romeo, Romeo... Wherfore art thou Romeo?"

  • This line from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet can be considered a misquotation as it is usually used in the wrong sense: people often believe that Juliet is asking where Romeo is, but she is actually asking why his name is Romeo.



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