50 Famous Misquotations (and What Was Really Said)
Don't believe everything you read online (or see posted in a cheesy mockup on Instagram, for that matter). Below are 50 examples of popular sayings that are actually misquotes or misattributions. Study up, because regardless of what that girl who went to your high school posted on Facebook, Marilyn Monroe probably didn't say it.
1. "I MOURN THE LOSS OF THOUSANDS OF PRECIOUS LIVES, BUT I WILL NOT REJOICE IN THE DEATH OF ONE, NOT EVEN AN ENEMY."
That quote, which went viral after Osama Bin Laden's death, is most often attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. However, it actually came from the Facebook status of a 24-year-old English teacher.
2. "WEAR SUNSCREEN."
You know that famous Kurt Vonnegut commencement address that begins, "Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 1997: Wear sunscreen?" You know, that one that was such a brilliant speech that Baz Luhrmann turned it into a hit song, and was so genius that when Vonnegut's wife, Jill Krementz, got an email containing the transcript, she forwarded it to the kids? Yeah, Vonnegut didn't give that speech. The text was actually an article from The Chicago Tribune by Mary Schmich.
3. "BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD."
Gandhi never said this. What he actually said, according to The New York Times: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”
4. "FIRST THEY IGNORE YOU. THEN THEY LAUGH AT YOU. THEN THEY ATTACK YOU. THEN YOU WIN."
Gandhi probably didn't say this, either. However, The Christian Science Monitor points out that it's incredibly close to a speech union activist Nicholas Klein delivered in 1918: "First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that, is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America."
5. "THE ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS."
Machiavelli never said this, or its Italian equivalent. What he actually said is, "One must consider the final result," which just isn't as catchy.
6. "OUR DEEPEST FEAR IS NOT THAT WE ARE INADEQUATE. OUR DEEPEST FEAR IS THAT WE ARE POWERFUL BEYOND MEASURE."
Nope, that wasn't Nelson Mandela, but instead a passage from self-help guru Marianne Williamson's 1992 tome.
7. "MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL."
Here's what the Bible actually says: "The love of money is the root of all evil."
8. "THE LION SHALL LAY DOWN WITH THE LAMB."
The Bible doesn't say this, either. Isaiah 11:6 actually states, "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together."
9. "THAT'S ONE SMALL STEP FOR MAN, ONE GIANT LEAP FOR MANKIND."
This one doesn't make sense to begin with, because man and mankind are synonyms. Fortunately for Neil Armstrong, that's apparently not what he actually said. The transmission blurred the fact that he said, "One small step for a man."
10. "HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM."
This was never spoken by Jim Lovell on the Apollo 13. But Tom Hanks does say it in the movie.
11. "FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION."
No one on the Apollo 13 crew uttered this line, either. After all, the whole situation had arisen because failure clearly was an option.
12. "LIFE IS LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES."
Speaking of Tom Hanks, that Forrest Gump quote is actually "Life was like a box of chocolates."
13. "ME TARZAN. YOU JANE."
This one was never said in any version of Tarzan the Ape Man.
14. "DO YOU FEEL LUCKY, PUNK?"
Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry actually says, "You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do you, punk?" Either way, it's fine with us as long as he doesn't say it to an empty chair.
15. "MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL …"
The Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs conjures up her BFF by calling him "Magic mirror"—not by saying "mirror" twice.
16. "I WANT TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD."
Dracula never said this.
17. "HE'S ALIVE."
Speaking of fictional monsters, Dr. Henry Frankenstein actually says, "It's alive!" in the 1931 film based on Mary Shelley's classic. Also, his assistant is not named Igor—his name is Fritz—and just so we're clear, Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster he whipped up in the laboratory.
18. "I DON'T THINK WE'RE IN KANSAS ANYMORE."
When Dorothy and her trusty canine first land in Oz, what she actually says is, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
19. "IT'S LIFE, JIM, BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT."
Spock's supposed quote actually comes from from "Star Trekkin", a song by The Firm. This is the very same song that brought us the beautiful lyrics, "Star Trekkin' across the universe/On the Starship Enterprise under Captain Kirk/Star Trekkin' across the universe/Boldly going forward, still can't find reverse."
20. "BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY."
And Captain Kirk never said this exact phrase, although he did urge Scotty on more than one occasion to get him back to the ship, stat.
21. "A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME SMELLS JUST AS SWEET."
Of course, Captain Kirk himself was responsible for popularizing a misquote of the Bard. The actual quote, as written by William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet is, "That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet."
22. "BUBBLE, BUBBLE, TOIL AND TROUBLE."
Poor Shakespeare would be alarmed by how frequently he's misquoted. This line from Macbeth actually begins, "Double, double."
23. "ALAS, POOR YORICK! I KNEW HIM WELL."
The opening line of Hamlet's famous monologue is actually, "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is!"
24. "METHINKS THE LADY DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH."
And Queen Gertrude doesn't say, "Methinks the lady doth protest too much" in Shakespeare's text. Instead, that "methinks" arrives at the end of the quote.
25. "ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT GOLD."
The Merchant of Venice warns that "All that glisters is not gold." There's no mention of glistening or glittering. It seems Smash Mouth wasn't as well versed in Shakespeare as they wanted to appear.
26. "HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE A WOMAN SCORNED."
This one's actually adapted from William Congreve, a late 17th century English writer. He originally wrote, "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned/Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."
27. "DREAMS ARE THE ROYAL ROAD TO THE UNCONSCIOUS."
In his early 20th century work The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud expressed this in a much more nuanced manner, writing, "The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind."
28. "SOMETIMES A CIGAR IS JUST A CIGAR."
Though it's attributed to Freud, historians seem to agree that this one is probably apocryphal.
29. "I DISAPPROVE OF WHAT YOU SAY, BUT I WILL DEFEND TO THE DEATH YOUR RIGHT TO SAY IT."
This words weren't written by Voltaire after all, but were instead a summary of his attitude towards a contemporary by the author S.G. Tallentyre in 1907.
30. "I CANNOT TELL A LIE."
This one, supposedly uttered by a young (and guilty) George Washington after he cut down a cherry tree, was actually fabricated by his 19th century biographer.
31. "IF YOU CAN'T HANDLE ME AT MY WORST, YOU DON'T DESERVE ME AT MY BEST."
Despite what Tumblr and Pinterest would have you believe, no one can prove that Marilyn Monroe ever actually said this.
32. "WELL-BEHAVED WOMEN RARELY MAKE HISTORY."
And she definitely didn't say this. A University of New Hampshire student by the name of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who would go on to become a Harvard professor, should get the credit.
33. "MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU."
Surprisingly, Obi Wan Kenobi never says this in the original Star Wars trilogy. Han Solo does.
34. "LUKE, I AM YOUR FATHER."
This one is actually, "No, I am your father."
35. "HELLO, CLARICE."
This now-iconic greeting doesn't actually appear in The Silence of the Lambs.
36. "I LOVE THE SMELL OF NAPALM IN THE MORNING."
37. "YOU WANT THE TRUTH? YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH."
In A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson's character never utters the first part of the quote that's so often attributed to him.
38. "THE ONLY TRADITIONS OF THE ROYAL NAVY ARE RUM, SODOMY, AND THE LASH."
Although Winston Churchill would go on to say he wished he'd come up with this one, these words weren't his. Instead, they were spoken by his assistant, Anthony Montague-Browne.
39. "BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS."
Churchill did say, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat," but that's much less catchy than the "blood, sweat, and tears" that caught on.
40. "THE BRITISH ARE COMING!"
Paul Revere probably didn't say this. The iconic line attributed to him was taken from the patriotic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Paul Revere's Ride."
41. "THE ONLY TWO CERTAINTIES IN LIFE ARE DEATH AND TAXES."
Mark Twain gets credit for saying most of the things that have ever been said in human history, including, "The only two certainties in life are death and taxes." But that was in fact either Edward Ward or Christopher Bullock.
42. "I HAVE NEVER KILLED A MAN, BUT I HAVE READ MANY OBITUARIES WITH GREAT PLEASURE."
Twain also didn't say this. That's a shortened version of a Clarence Darrow quote.
43. "REPORTS OF MY DEATH HAVE BEEN GREATLY EXAGGERATED."
When Twain wrote a response to his rumored death in the New York Journal in 1897, he did not say this. He simply said, "The report of my death was an exaggeration."
44. "DON'T FIRE 'TIL YOU SEE THE WHITES OF THEIR EYES."
A soldier by the name of Israel Putnam—relaying orders from Colonel William Prescott—actually said this, not Andrew Jackson.
45. "THE JOURNEY OF A THOUSAND MILES BEGINS WITH A SINGLE STEP."
46. "A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE IS A DANGEROUS THING."
This is a misquote of Alexander Pope's original statement, "A little learning is a dangerous thing."
47. "WALK SOFTLY, BUT CARRY A BIG STICK."
The actual Teddy Roosevelt quote is, "Speak softly and carry a big stick."
48. "GO CONFIDENTLY IN THE DIRECTION OF YOUR DREAMS! LIVE THE LIFE YOU'VE IMAGINED."
Here's what Henry David Thoreau really said (we admit, it isn't quite as pithy):
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours … In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness."
49. "[I] DID EVERYTHING FRED ASTAIRE DID, BUT BACKWARDS AND IN HIGH HEELS."
Ginger Rogers never said this about dance partner Fred Astaire. And in fact, in her autobiography My Story, she writes that the quotation actually came from a newspaper comic.
50. "LET THEM EAT CAKE!"
Marie Antoinette never said this—the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau did. What's more, he wasn't even talking about Marie, or cake. He wrote, "Let them eat brioche!"