Words They Never Said

This page is about those quotations that circle around social media, and even news articles, opinion pieces and the like, that everyone takes as gospel truth despite the fact that they are almost certainly misattributed. Which, I suppose, makes you wonder about how true the gospels are too… Anyway, I’ll be constantly adding to this list as and when I discover more axiomatic sayings that, in actuality, were never uttered by their supposed sources.

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”
Supposedly by Sigmund Freud. He never said it or anything like it.

“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal”
Supposedly by Emma Goldman and/or Mark Twain. No evidence of either. First recorded use was in a 1976 newspaper article.

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”
Supposedly by George Orwell. No evidence. Earliest use of this phrase was in an Australian book published 1982.

“Patriotism is a virtue of the vicious”
Supposedly by Oscar Wilde. He did say that it is ‘the vice of nations’.

“Let them eat cake”
Supposedly by Marie Antoinette. Almost certainly never said it, given that the quote first appears in Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, written when she was 11 years old and four years away from marrying Louis XVI.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”
Supposedly by Albert Einstein. Not only did he never say it, but it would be incredibly unlikely for any scientist to say it, given that repeatedly testing a hypothesis is literally the only way to prove it.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”
Supposedly by Voltaire. He was way too clever to air an opinion so stupid.

“Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world”
Supposedly by Marilyn Monroe. More or less identical to something said by Bette Midler, who is also awesome, so that’s something.

“All sex is rape”
Supposedly by Andrea Dworkin, Catherine McKinnon, and/or pretty much every feminist. Never said or written by any of them, as far as I can gather.

“We are not amused”
Supposedly by Queen Victoria. Not only is this made up, but apparently she was very often amused.

“The ends justify the means”
Supposedly by Niccolo Machievelli. Not only did he never say it, he wouldn’t have meant it literally even if he had; The Prince was SATIRE, people!

“Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong”
Supposedly it’s Murphy’s Law. Only it isn’t.

“A single death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic”
Supposedly by Josef Stalin. Never said it, except as a character in Command & Conquer: Red Alert.

“If you’re not liberal when you are 25, you have no heart. If you’re not conservative when you are 50, you have no head”
Supposedly by Winston Churchill. Apparently it and its variants come from the words of Francois Guizot.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts”
Supposedly by Winston Churchill too. Kinda glad he never said it, but also disappointed that it actually comes from a 1930’s Budweiser advertising campaign.

“I may be drunk, but you are ugly…and in the morning I shall be sober whereas you will still be ugly”
Supposedly by Winston Churchill. It’s a witty riposte, but he never made it.

“The best argument against democracy is a conversation with the average voter”
Supposedly by Winston Churchill again. Jesus, did that guy say anything?

“If the hill will not come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must come to the hill”
Supposedly by the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). Actually based on a story by Francis Bacon.

“The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”
Supposedly by Edmund Burke and/or Alexis de Tocqueville. Actually by neither. Similar statements were made by Plato, John Stuart Mill and Albert Einstein.

“There are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for”
Supposedly by Albert Camus. Really by an American conscientious objector explaining his refusal to fight in the second world war.

“Those who do not move do not notice their chains”
Supposedly by Rosa Luxemburg, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation even sold a mug with this quote on it! As historian Jörn Schütrumpf puts it; “She never said anything that silly!”

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”
Supposedly by Albert Einstein. Most probably based on a talk about mathematical theory given by David Hilbert in 1900.

“This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is no use whatsoever”
Supposedly by Sigmund Freud, casting shade on the Irish. No evidence he ever said it, but the misattribution seems to stem from Anthony Burgess.

“Being born in a stable does not make a man a horse”
Supposedly by Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington responding to the fact that he was born in Ireland. It was actually said by Daniel O’Connell in reference to the Duke.

“The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope”
Supposedly by Marx/Lenin/Stalin, but actually by none of them. Earliest source that matches the sentiments expressed was a 1931 profile of Maxim Litvinov written by S. Dimitrijewski.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

About Seba Roux

Gooner, Socialist, Historian, Slacker. That's pretty much all you need to know.
This entry was posted in Journalism, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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