6 Famous Misquotes & Where They Came From

You’ve probably heard most of these misquotes aren’t accurate already, but what you might not know is where they actually originated and how they ended up getting associated with certain famous people and characters. Here’s your chance to learn how misattribution and miswording can become someone’s longest lasting legacy.

1. “Let Them Eat Cake”

Perhaps the most famous misquote of all time, you almost certainly already knew she never actually said this line. What you might not know is where the line comes from. As it turns out "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche," was first written in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions, an autobiography he started to write while Antoinette was only nine years old. In fact, Marie didn’t even arrive in France until after Rousseau completed the book.

The quote itself was said to have come from a “great princess,” but he never actually lists the princess by name and many believe he completely made the story up. Others speculate that it was referring to Maria Theresa of Spain or one of Louis XV's daughters, either Madame Sophie and Madame Victoire.

As for Marie, she was actually quite sweet and felt bad for the impoverish people of her country, even if she didn’t let it stop her from living a rather lavish lifestyle. In fact, when there was a bread shortage during her reign, she wrote to her family in Austria saying, "It is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness.”

It wasn’t until 1843, almost 75 years after Rousseau completed Confessions and over 50 years since Marie was executed, that the quote was attributed to her for the first time by Alphonse Karr in “Les Guepes. While none of this makes it any better that the Queen has been so wrongly villainized by the quote, at least now you know the story.

Source Image Via (Alex) [Flickr]

2. “Elementary, My Dear Watson”

Here’s another one that’s famous for being inaccurate, but people still like to quote it whenever a reference to Sherlock Holmes comes up. In all of the sixty Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this phrase never once comes up, although Holmes does say both “elementary” and “my dear Watson” –just never together.

As for the origin of the phrase, well, it was first used in the 1915 P.G. Wodehouse novel Psmith, Journalist. It later appeared in the first Sherlock Holmes sound film, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, which premiered in 1929. Neither of these sources were enough to make it the famous misquote it is today though. Indeed, that honor goes to writer Edith Meiser’s regular use of the line in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes radio series that was broadcast  between 1939 and 1947.


3. “Play It Again, Sam”

(YouTube link)

Real fans of Casablanca know this is never said in the film, but those who have never seen the classic –even those who have only seen it once, seem to remember seeing clips of Humphrey Bogart saying this classic line. In reality, Ingrid Bergman comes closest to the line, saying, “Play it once, Sam, for old times' sake, play 'As Time Goes By.’" Humphrey’s actual line is in reference to this earlier scene, when he drunkenly tells Sam, "You played it for her, you can play it for me. ... If she can stand to listen to it, I can. Play it."

As for where the line first appeared, well, the movie has been a popular source for parody ever since it was released. In fact, the Marx Brother’s film, A Night in Casablanca, was originally a direct parody of the classic although it was later changed to be a parody of the genre rather than the specific film. Even after the script changes though, the words “Play it again, Sam” were left in the film, securely tying the name Casablanca with the phrase.

Later on, Woody Allen named his film Play It Again, Sam, which was based on a man obsessed with Casablanca, further ingraining the phrase into the popular consciousness.

Sources: Wikipedia #1, #2, #3

4. “I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It”

Admittedly, this is a great quote no matter what, and it was certainly an ideal that Voltaire believed in. That being said, the famous thinker never actually said this. The expression came about when Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote a biography of Voltaire under the pen name S. G. Tallentyre. The 1906 biography, called The Friends of Voltaire was unique in that Hall wrote it in first person, so when she made up this great line that sounded like something Voltaire would stand for, people immediately adopted it as something he actually did say. Humorously, these days the quote is more famous than pretty much anything Voltaire ever actually said.


5. “I Can See Russia From My House”

(Video Link)

Sarah Palin may have said plenty of gaffes during the 2008 election campaign (just as all politicians do), but this famous phrase was never uttered by the Vice Presidential Candidate. It all started in an interview on ABC News, where she was asked what insight she was given by living so close to Russia. In response, Palin answered "They're our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.” While it might not be the most eloquent response, what she said was entirely true: there are a few Alaskan islands that allow you to see Russia.

In fact, Slate pointed out that in the Bering Strait are the islands of Big Diomede, which is a Russian territory, and Little Diomede, which is part of Alaska. Being as how the islands are only two and a half miles apart, you can certainly see from one to the other.

You can blame Tina Fey for the famous misquote because only two days later she appeared on Saturday Night Live as Sarah Palin and delivered the line during the above sketch that also features Amy Poehler appearing as Hillary Clinton.


6. “First They Ignore You. Then They Laugh At You. Then They Attack You. Then You Win.”

While this is one of the most famous quotes by Gandhi, there is no actual record that he ever said this. It certainly sounds like something he would say, but his later life was fairly well documented, so there is no reason to believe he actually did say this line.

So where did it come from? No one knows where this specific version of the line came from or how it was attributed to Gandhi, but it was certainly adapted from a speech given by Union worker Nicholas Klein at the Biennial Convention of Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in 1914. Before it was modified and wrongly attributed, the quote went, “In this story you have a history of this entire movement. 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.”  It’s not exactly the same as the supposed Gandhi line, but I’m sure we can all agree that it was definitely the inspiration for it.

Source Image Via Victorgrigas [Wikipedia]

I don’t know about you guys, but I find it really interesting to see how these phrases have been manipulated and changed. It puts a whole new perspective on all of the “he said, she said” gossip we have all dealt with at one point or another. After all, if it’s this easy to randomly associate Gandhi with something he never even came close to saying, then how easy would it be for gossip to completely change what someone you know actually said or did?

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