Monday, 10 October 2011

Who said what?

Mark Twain at home

I understand better now why people say, 'I think it was X who said...' or, 'Someone once said...'

You can't be too careful. Apparently the most mis-quoted figure of the last century or so is Mark Twain because, as Robert Hirst, General Editor of the University of California's Mark Twain Project, says (thanks to Barbara Mikkelson of for this quote): 'It's like an insurance policy. Attributing something to Mark Twain adds to the joke. When they first hear his name, people are disposed to laugh; they're ready to laugh. That's the chief reason he's saddled with so much stuff that isn't his."

For example:-

'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.'
Twain used this in his autobiography but correctly attributed it to Benjamin Disraeli.

'The only two certainties in life are death and taxes.'
This was used by Twain but without attribution - it probably came from Benjamin Franklin in 1789.

'Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.'
What he actually said was, 'The report of my death is an exaggeration." (Curiously enough, I like the real version better.)

'Wagner's music is better than it sounds.'
Twain often used this quote, but appropriately credited it to the humorist Edgar Wilson Nye.

I'm as guilty as anyone. I often quote the humourist Jack Handey on this blog, and months ago I led with this:

'When I die, I want to go peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather - not screaming in terror like his passengers..'

It is - was - my favourite Handey quote, but it turns out not to be one of his. It is, well.. someone else's (no-one seems to know whose). I have this on the best authority, and in fact the same authority drew my attention to the Mark Twain mis-attributions, of which there are many more.

Never mind, I'll find another Handey favourite. What about this:-

'If you ever go temporarily insane, don't shoot somebody, like a lot of people do. Instead, try to get some weeding done, because you'd really be surprised.'


'Here's a good joke to do during an earthquake: straddle a big crack in the ground, and if it opens wider, go "Whoa! Whoa!" and flail your arms around, like you're going to fall in.'
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