Part Two

Jay Leno was offering five and six-year-olds the opportunity to finish well-known (by adults) proverbs on The Tonight Show. “People who live in glass houses …” he began, and offered the microphone to a bright young fellow. The Californian youngster promptly responded with the very logical reply “die in earthquakes.”  His answer changed the second half of that proverb (from “shouldn’t throw stones”) for me forever.

Most of us use quotations and proverbs, or slightly reworked versions of the originals. In fact, a lot of what we claim as quotes are actually misquotes. Marie Antoinette never said “let them eat cake,” Machiavelli didn’t say “the end justifies the means,” and Horace Greeley never made the recommendation to “go west, young man.”

Sherlock Holmes didn’t say “Elementary, my dear Watson,” in any of Conan Doyle’s stories.

No one said “Play it again, Sam” in the movie Casablanca and the closest Captain Kirk came to saying “Beam me up, Scottie” in the original Star Trek television series is “Beam us up, Mr. Scott.”

“Luke, I am your father,” from The Empire Strikes Back, topped a list of memorable movie misquotes compiled earlier this year following voting by 1,500 filmgoers. Darth Vader actually said “No, I am your father.”

How many times have you heard a co-worker say “Ours is not to reason why,” usually in reference to a decision made by management and considered stupid by staff? I wonder how many of the speakers even know that the original line is “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die,” from The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

For anyone who is interested in researching accurate quotations, whether for a specific use or just for fun, there are quotation dictionaries available to suit all needs and interests.

It’s such a pleasure to write down splendid words – almost as though one were inventing them.  ~Rupert Hart-Davis

Quotations 3



Filed under Books

4 responses to “Dictionaries

  1. Evan

    Interesting, one of the bands I listen to (Greeley Estates) has used the “go west, young man” misquote as a song title.

    • “Go west, young man” is the cause of much debate. Some say it was originally written in an editorial by John B.L. Soule and later rephrased slightly by Greeley and popularized as “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country.” Fred R. Shapiro, who published the Yale Book of Quotations in 2007, did extensive research on the writings of both men and found no evidence that Soule mentioned the quoted phrase anywhere. He found no evidence that Greeley wrote it either, however he did “uncover the following quote cited in a recent biography of Greeley: ‘If any young man is about to commence the world, we say to him, publicly and privately, Go to the West’. ‘”Go West, young man’ may well have been a paraphrase of this and other advice given by Greeley.”

  2. Fiddlegirl

    I used to have Charge of the Light Brigade memorized… A depressing poem to quote in personal context since most of the Light Brigade did die.

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