Quote of the day

Sherlock Holmes never said “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Neither Ingrid Bergman nor anyone else in “Casablanca” says “Play it again, Sam”; Leo Durocher did not say “Nice guys finish last”; Vince Lombardi did say “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” quite often, but he got the line from someone else. Patrick Henry almost certainly did not say “Give me liberty, or give me death!”; William Tecumseh Sherman never wrote the words “War is hell”; and there is no evidence that Horace Greeley said “Go west, young man.”

And it’s so good it deserves part 2:

Marie Antoinette did not say “Let them eat cake”; Hermann Göring did not say “When I hear the word ‘culture,’ I reach for my gun”; and Muhammad Ali did not say “No Vietcong ever called me nigger.” Gordon Gekko, the character played by Michael Douglas in “Wall Street,” does not say “Greed is good”; James Cagney never says “You dirty rat” in any of his films; and no movie actor, including Charles Boyer, ever said “Come with me to the Casbah.” Many of the phrases for which Winston Churchill is famous he adapted from the phrases of other people, and when Yogi Berra said “I didn’t really say everything I said” he was correct.

From Notable Quotables by Louis Menand, in the New Yorker

8 Responses to “Quote of the day”

  1. Sean Crawford

    hmmm. (Spoken in a neutral voice) “There are some things I would rather not know.”

  2. Allen Liff

    About the Lombardi quote…I recall reading an interview with one of his sons who said the quote was probably inaccurate. He claimed his father would have said something like, “The will to win is everything.” It might seem a subtle difference…

  3. AlastairC

    Well, Gordon Gecko does say “Greed (for lack of a better word), is good, greed is right, greed works.”, [1:15:10] so you can forgive people remembering that…

  4. Ben Buchanan

    I suppose it’s worth considering the value of the apocryphal versions separately from their accuracy. In many ways the quotable quotes people send and say to each other don’t need a source as their sentiment is the reason people quote them.

    It’s worth knowing the quotes aren’t true quotes of course; but their popularity means it’s hard to find another accurate and true quote that illustrates the same point. Guess we can just cite them as “apocryphal but illustrative” :)

  5. Scott Berkun

    Ben: Exactly. Part of Menand’s point is that in many cases these apocryphal quotes are better lines than the original, and how they’re changed suggests a kind of crowd sourcing – as the quote got ‘better’ it was repeated more often.



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