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9 Popular Quotes Commonly Misattributed to Abe Lincoln

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Public Domain

Known widely as a great orator, Abraham Lincoln said (and wrote) many inspiring things during his life and presidency. From the “House Divided” speech to his lesser-known letters and writings, there are plenty of motivational phrases to be found. However, in the decades and centuries following his death, many quotes have been wrongly attributed and disseminated in various publications, with the Internet spurring it all on. Prepare to be disappointed: Here are nine quotes you thought were by Honest Abe, but actually aren’t.

1. “Most folks are about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”

This quote was first attributed to Lincoln in 1914—50 years after his death—as part of a column in the Syracuse Herald written by Dr. Frank Crane about New Year’s resolutions. Following that instance, it appeared in many other publications attributed to the president, but no evidence exists to suggest those attributions are correct.

2. “Whatever you are, be a good one.”

First attributed to Lincoln about 80 years following his death in a compendium of inspiring quotations, credit for this quote should actually go elsewhere. Laurence Hutton wrote a memoir in 1897 in which he described meeting William Makepeace Thackeray, during which meeting Thackeray is quoted as saying, “Whatever you are, try to be a good one.” The accuracy of even that attribution, however, depends on the accuracy of Hutton’s memory while penning his memoir.

3. “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

This quote is often attributed to Winston Churchill as well as Lincoln, but was first found in a 1953 book on public speaking, where it wasn’t credited at all. Similarly phrased quotes (“In short they go from failure to failure, but always on the up-grade”) were found in articles as early as 1913, but by the 1980s it was wrongly being ascribed to Churchill. In 2001, a newspaper in New Orleans attributed it to Lincoln, the first association of his name with the quote.

4. “Great things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

Despite many references on the Internet to Lincoln saying this quote, there is no evidence to support it. Within The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, he says the phrase “things may” only three times, and never says “things may come,” “things left,” or the word “hustle.” Furthermore, in Lincoln’s era, “hustle” meant to obtain something rather than to put in an energetic effort.

5. “You can’t fool all the people all the time.”

While first used by politicians in relatively the same era as Abraham Lincoln, no evidence exists that suggests Lincoln said this quote himself. Its earliest use was in French in 1684 in Traité de la Vérité de la Religion Chrétienne, a work of apologetics by Jacques Abbadie, a French Protestant. The quote wasn’t attributed to Lincoln until 1886 in an article in the Springfield Globe-Republic, and was widely disseminated after that.

6. “Here I stand—warts and all.”

George H.W. Bush attributed this quote to Abraham Lincoln in 1988. In reality, it was a mash-up of two other famous people’s phrases: “Here I stand,” part of Martin Luther’s popular phrase, “Here I stand. I can do no other,” and, “warts and all,” attributed to Oliver Cromwell who is said to have said something to that effect to a painter when commissioning a portrait.

7. “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

There is a biblical proverb that is similar to this phrase, Proverbs 17:28:

"Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue."

In 1931, this quote was attributed to Lincoln in The Yale Book of Quotations, which turned out to be the first (and very late) instance where it appeared as credited to the president. The quote is also widely attributed to Mark Twain, though there is little evidence of this, either. In fact, in the 2001 Ken Burns documentary on the author, a companion book was released in which this phrase was listed in a section titled “What Twain Didn’t Say.” A similar quote was included in 1907 in Mrs. Goose, Her Book, by Maurice Switzer, so he is usually credited with coining the phrase.

8. “You can’t build a little guy up by tearing a big guy down.”

Most recently misquoted by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, this quote was originally written by Rev. William J. H. Boetcker, who was published in a pamphlet alongside Lincoln quotations in 1916, and the quote was confused as one of Lincoln’s sayings.

9. "You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.”

Like the quote about the inability to build someone up by bringing someone else down, this quote should also be attributed to Rev. Boetcker, thanks to that same pamphlet confusion.

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Bowman Gum - Heritage Auctions, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
11 Timeless Yogi Berra Quotes
Bowman Gum - Heritage Auctions, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Bowman Gum - Heritage Auctions, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The great Yogi Berra—a 10-time World Series champion and three-time MVP—was one of baseball's best catchers, but he's remembered just as much for his wit and wisdom as his Hall of Fame career. Here are some of the quotes attributed to Yogi (who was born on May 12, 1925), even if he didn't always say them first.

1. "Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't go to yours."

2. "The future ain't what it used to be." (Yogi later clarified, saying, "I just meant that times are different. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.")

3. "A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore."

4. "It ain't over 'til it's over."

5. "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." (See Quote Investigator)

6. "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." (See Quote Investigator)

7. "We have a good time together, even when we're not together."

8. "It's déjà vu all over again." (See Quote Investigator)

9. "Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical."

10. "I really didn't say everything I said."

11. "Then again, I might have said 'em, but you never know."

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Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
13 Great Jack Nicholson Quotes
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

Jack Nicholson turns 81 today. Let's celebrate with some of the actor's wit and wisdom.

1. ON ADVICE

"I hate advice unless I'm giving it. I hate giving advice, because people won't take it."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

2. ON REGRETS

"Not that I can think of. I’m sure there are some, but my mind doesn’t go there. When you look at life retrospectively you rarely regret anything that you did, but you might regret things that you didn’t do."

From an interview with The Talks

3. ON DEATH

"I'm Irish. I think about death all the time. Back in the days when I thought of myself as a serious academic writer, I used to think that the only real theme was a fear of death, and that all the other themes were just that same fear, translated into fear of closeness, fear of loneliness, fear of dissolving values. Then I heard old John Huston talking about death. Somebody was quizzing him about the subject, you know, and here he is with the open-heart surgery a few years ago, and the emphysema, but he's bounced back fit as a fiddle, and he's talking about theories of death, and the other fella says, 'Well, great, John, that's great ... but how am I supposed to feel about it when you pass on?' And John says, 'Just treat it as your own.' As for me, I like that line I wrote that, we used in The Border, where I said, 'I just want to do something good before I die.' Isn't that what we all want?"

From an interview with Roger Ebert

4. ON NERVES

''There's a period of time just before you start a movie when you start thinking, I don't know what in the world I'm going to do. It's free-floating anxiety. In my case, though, this is over by lunch the first day of shooting.''

From an interview with The New York Times

5. ON ACTING

"Almost anyone can give a good representative performance when you're unknown. It's just easier. The real pro game of acting is after you're known—to 'un-Jack' that character, in my case, and get the audience to reinvest in a new and specific, fictional person."

From an interview with The Age

6. ON MARRIAGE

"I never had a policy about marriage. I got married very young in life and I always think in all relationships, I've always thought that it's counterproductive to have a theory on that. It's hard enough to get to know yourself and as most of you have probably found, once you get to know two people in tandem it's even more difficult. If it's going to be successful, it's going to have to be very specific and real and immediate so the more ideas you have about it before you start, it seems to me the less likely you are to be successful."

From an interview with About.com

7. ON LYING

“You only lie to two people in your life: your girlfriend and the police. Everybody else you tell the truth to.”

From a 1994 interview with Vanity Fair

8. ON HIS SUNGLASSES

"They're prescription. That's why I wear them. A long time ago, the Middle American in me may have thought it was a bit affected maybe. But the light is very strong in southern California. And once you've experienced negative territory in public life, you begin to accept the notion of shields. I am a person who is trained to look other people in the eye. But I can't look into the eyes of everyone who wants to look into mine; I can't emotionally cope with that kind of volume. Sunglasses are part of my armor."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

9. ON MISCONCEPTIONS

"I think people think I'm more physical than I am, I suppose. I'm not really confrontational. Of course, I have a temper, but that's sort of blown out of proportion."

From an interview with ESPN

10. ON DIRECTING

"I'm a different person when suddenly it's my responsibility. I'm not very inhibited in that way. I would show up [on the set of The Two Jakes] one day, and we'd scouted an orange grove and it had been cut down. You're out in the middle of nowhere and they forget to cast an actor. These are the sort of things I kind of like about directing. Of course, at the time you blow your stack a little bit. ... I'm a Roger Corman baby. Just keep rolling, baby. You've got to get something on there. Maybe it's right. Maybe it's wrong. Maybe you can fix it later. Maybe you can't. You can't imagine the things that come up when you're making a movie where you've got to adjust on the spot."

From an interview with MTV

11. ON ROGER CORMAN

"There's nobody in there, that he didn't, in the most important way support. He was my life blood to whatever I thought I was going to be as a person. And I hope he knows that this is not all hot air. I'm going to cry now."

From the documentary Corman's World

12. ON PLAYING THE JOKER

"This would be the character, whose core—while totally determinate of the part—was the least limiting of any I would ever encounter. This is a more literary way of approaching than I might have had as a kid reading the comics, but you have to get specific. ... He's not wired up the same way. This guy has survived nuclear waste immersion here. Even in my own life, people have said, 'There's nothing sacred to you in the area of humor, Jack. Sometimes, Jack, relax with the humor.' This does not apply to the Joker, in fact, just the opposite. Things even the wildest comics might be afraid to find funny: burning somebody's face into oblivion, destroying a masterpiece in a museum—a subject as an art person even made me a little scared. Not this character. And I love that."

From The Making of Batman

13. ON BASKETBALL

"I've always thought basketball was the best sport, although it wasn't the sport I was best at. It was just the most fun to watch. ... Even as a kid it appealed to me. The basketball players were out at night. They had great overcoats. There was this certain nighttime juvenile-delinquent thing about it that got your blood going."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

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