The Internet is full of quotes that the people they're attributed to never said. Some of these famous misquotes end up as inspirational pablum on Facebook walls, others are used to push forth false versions of history. Most are taken at face value and accepted as part of the canon, despite rarely having any justification. Some of these quotes attributed to the wrong person are obviously fake, yet never questioned.
But even a tiny bit of scholarship can shed the light of truth on most famous misquotes. You might not be able to set the record straight, but at least you'll know who really said what - and if anyone even said it at all. When it comes to famous sayings, notable quotes, and popular ideas, their source might often be generally misattributed.
So did Leonardo da Vinci really extol the virtues of "doing some stuff?" Did Shakespeare warn us not to "play with the feelings of others?" Did Bill Gates really think 640K of memory was "enough for anyone?" What of Orwell and his "rough men?" Or Dr. Seuss telling us about those who matter and those who mind? Did any of these people say any of this stuff?This list features all kinds of incredibly famous quotes everyone gets wrong from all periods of history that are all over the Internet, attributed to people who never even said them.
“The world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people. But because of the silence of good people.” – Napoleon
A pat variation on “the only thing necessary for evil men to triumph is good men to do nothing,” there’s no record of Napoleon writing or saying this to anyone at any time. Numerous well-sourced lists of Napoleon quotes are out there, and not a single one includes this quote, nor does any searchable Napoleon biography.One could argue that not only did Napoleon not say it, he also didn’t abide by it. The Napoleonic Wars tore Europe apart and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. The French general’s brutal repression of his enemies caused the world and the good people in it to “suffer a lot.” If there’s one thing worse than a fraud, it’s a hypocritical fraud.
“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” – George Orwell
This is a tidy summary of the themes underlying much of Orwell’s work, but Orwell didn’t write it. It was actually written ABOUT Orwell, long after his death, in a 1993 article in The Washington Times article by film critic Richard Grenier. There are variations on the quote in several different works by Orwell, but it was Grenier who first put these words together – and even then, he wasn’t quoting Orwell, only attempting to generalize his philosophy.The quotation marks were added later by a mystery mis-attributor, turning a quote about Orwell into a quote by Orwell.
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss
Another canonical Dr. Seuss quote that he never wrote. It doesn’t appear in anything he ever wrote or published, and is always quoted without a source. Other sources attribute it to Woody Allen, French actress Sarah Bernhardt, Gabriel García Márquez, and someone named Luke Dawson. In reality, it’s most likely just an anonymous proverb.
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
This is another quote where the most common attribution makes sense, but is incorrect. It’s nowhere to be found in Nietzsche’s writings, and there’s no compelling evidence that he ever said it.There are variations on the line going all the way back to the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi, and as far forward as George Carlin, no stranger to incorrectly attributed quotes. It’s not at all clear who first said it, but it wasn’t Nietzsche.