Wait, who said that? Your favorite quote probably isn't from the person you think it is

Most likely, that favorite quote you love to throw around isn't from the person you thought it was.

USA About: #mondaythoughts Publish: 07/29/2022 Edit: 07/29/2022 Author: Gardener


On today's episode of the 5 Things podcast, chances are the favorite quote you're throwing around isn't from the person you thought it was. From the movie quote "Luke, I am your father" from Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back to the quote "Golf is spoiled by a good walk" by Mark Twain - both wrong, by the way. Each generation misquotes in its own way. Some are simply misquoted, while others are simply misremembered (Take this Star Wars quote, for example. Darth Vader actually says, "No, I am your father.") Fred Shapiro, lecturer and editor of the Yale Book of Quotations and The New Yale Book of Quotations is dedicated to studying citations and ensuring that they are correct. He sat down with the 5 Things team to speak quotes. Get all the news you need in your inbox every morning. He said our culture today is more geared towards conciseness with snippets and sound bites. That people are less likely to read through a book or an argument. He said some of the misquotes come from this way of thinking. He said that movie quotes are very popular and are often misquoted and condensed. But does it really matter if a person gets the gist of what is being said? Shapiro said it was important. Don't believe us on some of the incorrect quotes? Click here to see the clip from Apocalypse Now mentioned below. How about this quote from Sarah Palin? Click here for her ABC News interview and click here for the Saturday Night Live skit. Still not sure if former President Barrack O'bama misquoted Maya Angelou? Podcasts: True crime, in-depth interviews and more USA TODAY podcasts right here. James Brown: Hello and welcome to Five Things. Every Sunday we take an idea, a story, a question and go deep. And this week we're going to talk about quotes. A little over a minute after his remarks he said... Barack Obama: The late great Maya Angelou once said, "A bird does not sing because it has an answer." James Brown: The following year, the US Postal Service introduced a dedicated Angelou Stamp with her face on it next to the exact same quote. It was an instant collector's item because Angelou never said that. It even appears in one of her books. Mark Saunders, then the Postal Service spokesman, told the Washington Post that numerous references said the quote was from Angelou. And that it was somehow connected to her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. There are at least half a dozen other quotes that people say are from Angelou that question the likes of Fred Shapiro. Shapiro lectures and works on special projects at Yale Law School. He is the editor of The Yale Book of Quotations and The New Yale Book of Quotation. In these huge books he spends more than 2000 pages checking and explaining wrong quotes. From Mark Twain to Sarah Palin, Shapiro told me that every generation misquotes in its own way. Fred Shapiro, welcome to Five Things. Fred Shapiro: Hello. Thanks for the invitation. James Brown: One of the most quoted people of all time is Mark Twain. Fred Shapiro: Oh, well, you're definitely right about almost always getting it wrong. If someone tells you that Mark Twain said something, you can be sure that Mark Twain probably didn't say that something. He had a lot of funny things that he said, but the things that people quote these days are usually things that were said by other people much later than in his day. It's a quote magnet that people want to believe that a popular person, a famous person said something they like. James Brown: Is there a particular Twain quote that is often misquoted, or more often than others? Fred Shapiro: Well, there are so many of them. Just one example is "A Golf is a Good Walk" which is almost always attributed to Mark Twain. But in fact, the earliest evidence of someone using it was in 1913, after Twain was dead. It's anonymous as to who said it. Many famous quotes come from the mouth of an obscure person who is quickly forgotten. James Brown: That's a really interesting concept. Fred Shapiro: Yes. Yes. Not only Twain is a quote magnet. You also get people like Yogi Berra, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, who are routinely credited with quotes when they've never said anything like it. Sometimes you can tell the language and the diction, the tone of a quote is often very modern, but it's attributed to someone from a past century when they just didn't speak the way we speak today. James Brown: You're known for this kind of research. They wrote a book about it, at least one. How do you find out that a quote is not from the person to whom it is attributed? Fred Shapiro: Well, I'm glad I came at a time when the tools for fantastic research of this kind were emerging. And they started in the 19th or early 20th century, before there were computers to help with research. Realizing that these quote books were unreliable and not the result of thorough research, I began developing my own quote book, The Yale Book of Quotations, which has now become the standard reference book. I was compiling The Yale Book of Quotations just at the time, I was lucky, just at the time there was a huge explosion of computer internet databases where you could find millions and billions even trillions of newspaper articles, historical newspaper articles, old could browse newspaper articles, current newspaper articles. That you could type in the words of a quote and the database, like Google Books or newspaper databases, will search through a huge amount of material. I've been able to keep re-writing the standard stories of famous quotes and getting a lot closer to the truth about who actually invented the quotes we love so much. James Brown: If you say that these quote books, these classic quote books, the Bartlett's of the world, are flawed, that they weren't the result of thorough research, how do you think they were put together? Fred Shapiro: Well, hundreds of years ago, there were people who put together ordinary books, they were called. That whenever they read something that they really liked, that they thought was profound or funny, they wrote it down in a book, a kind of diary, that they kept. There have been people doing this for hundreds of years. Not systematically, not even covering all the famous quotes. I was shocked to find that Bartlett's and the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations often omit some of the most famous quotes. It's like looking it up in a dictionary, Webster's Dictionary, and forgetting to type the word "umbrella." But a lot happens with the citation dictionaries because they were unsystematically compiled from private collections of words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs that people liked. Through the use of computational methods, I was able to fill in the gaps in famous quotes that were omitted in other quote books, and actually trace back for each famous quote. I did some research to trace back as far as possible when they were made. The people who put these books together were knowledgeable, well-read people, and they did their best. I've just published The New Yale Book of Quotations, which goes even further than the original. It has just been published by Yale University Press, The New Yale Book of Quotations. And that's what every entry tries to backtrack, do real research to trace back to the origins of a quote. James Brown: I think what's clear from our conversation so far is that misquoting isn't new, it's happening all the time. Is there something about today's misquotes that is different than in the past? Fred Shapiro: Our culture in general is leaning toward succinctness, snippets, soundbites, so now people are less likely to read through a book and try to grapple with a long 300-page argument. They go for things that are shorter. Some of the wrong quotes come from there. I'm just giving an example that in the movie Apocalypse Now... I mean, movie quotes are very popular. In the movie Apocalypse Now, the famous quote is: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like victory.” This is a very often repeated quote from Apocalypse Now. But the actual quote in the movie, if you see the movie, listen to the movie, Robert Duvall actually says... Robert Duvall: I love the smell of napalm in the morning. Fred Shapiro: "The smell, you know that gas smell? The whole hill smelled of victory.” In the vernacular, this has condensed into a short quote. "I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like victory." That happens often. Things will be "remembered in a more punchy and concise way". Even literary quotes like Shakespeare. Hamlet has a famous quote: "Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him well." Well, indeed, Shakespeare wrote: 'Oh, poor Yorick. The vernacular changes quotes to make them flow better to make them shorter. I think this is happening more and more in our time now than in the past. James Brown: That sounds like the influence of social media. Fred Shapiro: Absolutely. Social media has a huge impact on things like this. That people often say, well, to find out the exact wording of a quote, or to find out who came from it or how it should be spelled, all you have to do is go to Google. But if you do a Google search you will get the full impact of millions of people misquoting things. And just because Google finds an alleged quote or an alleged author of a quote doesn't mean that's really the origin or how something should be articulated. James Brown: What would you say to someone who would argue that I get the gist of the idea that it's not important to know exactly where that concept, that quote, that line is from? Fred Shapiro: Often when you misunderstand the source of a quote, you misunderstand the ideas and then the lesson of what the person was trying to say as they penned it. Especially in today's politics, political quotes are often distorted to serve a political agenda. People tweak quotes or distort quotes for their own purposes. James Brown: Sarah Palin actually comes to mind with the concept you are drafting. I don't know if you know the quote I'm talking about. Fred Shapiro: What quote is this? James Brown: It's widely believed that she said, "I can see Russia from my house." Fred Shapiro: Okay. Sarah Palin: They are our direct neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska. Fred Shapiro: What she said wasn't literally that she could see Russia from her house, but that Alaska was near Russia. That was blown up as the ultimate proof that Sarah Palin is a fool, but that's not really what she said. If this line is to be criticized, it would present it as a kind of foreign policy proof that it originated in Alaska and Alaska's nearby Russia. But the actual words have been misquoted. In fact, "I can see Russia from my house" didn't come out of the mouth of Sarah Palin, it came from Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live. Tina Fey: I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign policy. And I can see Russia from my house. Fred Shapiro: In my book, I explain the truth of all of this. James Brown: One of the things that has caught your attention lately is your work on the Pledge of Allegiance. What did you find out while researching this? Fred Shapiro: We found that the person who was credited with it didn't say it, couldn't have said it. Because we found a newspaper article where the Pledge of Allegiance was published before Francis Bell, who is the person who always gets credit for it, says he wrote it. And it's possible that that person was actually a 13-year-old schoolboy in Kansas. Fred Shapiro: This is an impressive example that the true story differs rather from the accepted story that they would find if they were looking for a significant quotations like The New Yale Book of Quotations. James Brown: There's something else about the story that makes me think. Is it easier to do what Bellamy might have done, which is maybe steal a pledge of allegiance from a 13-year-old now than it was then? Fred Shapiro: In a way it's easier now because you can find someone else's words online and then take them as your own and get lost in a sea of ​​misinformation on the internet. But it's also more difficult in the sense that people like me can come along and do the research. And in some cases, publish it from the New York Times or from Wikipedia. You have to get the New York Times to publish an article or put it on Wikipedia, which is now a source many people would look at. James Brown: So it's easier to grasp the concept but harder to maintain the illusion that it's yours? Fred Shapiro: Yes, although I have to say the powers of misquoting are pretty strong. And sometimes it's a losing battle to unearth the real story. James Brown: The Powers of Misquoting. James Brown: Well, Fred Shapiro, thanks for joining me. Fred Shapiro: Well, I enjoyed talking to you. Perhaps your listeners can think a little more about the ideas of quotes and misquotes. James Brown: If you enjoy the show, please give us a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you hear it. Email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter at James Brown TV. Thanks to Fred Shapiro for joining me. Links to his books can be found in the description. Taylor Wilson will be back tomorrow morning with Five Things You Need To Know for Monday. And from all of us at USA Today, thank you for listening. I'm James Brown. I'm James Brown. This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wait, who said that? Your favorite quote probably isn't from the person you think it is


Keywords: Fred Shapiro, James Brown, Russia, Sarah Palin, Mark Twain, today, Alaska, Five, Apocalypse Now, 13-year-old, 5, Wikipedia, the New York Times, the Pledge of Allegiance, Yorick, Robert Duvall, The New Yale Book of Quotations, Bartlett, The Yale Book of Quotations, One

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