A kick in the aphorism

If you’re in search of inspirational quotations, the Internet is a source of infinite examples, along with infinite accompanying photos of sunrises, seascapes and rainbows. Strangely, you rarely see an inspirational message paired with a photo of a cup of coffee, which really, most of the time, is all the inspiration any of us need.

The thing about these inspirational messages is that they are often mis-attributed. For example, you’ll frequently hear people quote Gandhi as saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” However, there is no evidence that the father of modern India ever said this. The closest we come is Gandhi saying:

mohandas-karamchand-gandhiThis, of course, was during Gandhi’s so-called Mopey Period.

But “Be the change…” sounds like something Gandhi would say, so it continues to be perpetuated on Facebook pages, on Instagram and at high school graduations.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

looks so much better on Tumblr than

“Mahatma Gandhi never said ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’”
– That Guy

But, as we all know, I am that guy.

For example, I can’t help but point out that Marilyn Monroe never said, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” What she did say was “Well-behaved women rarely make pancakes.” This statement is not only less inspirational but kind of disappointing, especially if you’re a dude contemplating marriage.

Likewise, beloved children’s author Doctor Seuss never said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” The actual quote is:

20141017_4468_DxO copie copieThis is taken from the book Singles with Shingles and Cheapskates on Dates.

Often, quotations may be accurate but taken out of context. For example, how many times have we heard the following aphorism by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” While accurate, the full quotation goes:

gretzky1Gretzky, you see, is a bit of a philosopher. However, Gretzky concluded by saying:

gretzky2 Which is why Gretzky’s reputation as a philosopher has never taken off.

Similarly, while scientist and navy rear admiral Grace Hopper did say, “The most dangerous phrase in any language is ‘We’ve always done it that way,’” what’s forgotten is that she went on to add, “with the exception of an ancient Sanskrit phrase that unleashes a plague of annihilating demons upon the Earth; that’s probably the most dangerous phrase, come to think of it.” Of course, this full quote is far too long for a Pinterest post and is therefore rarely cited.

The list goes on. Nelson Mandela never said, “You better move your car out of my parking spot or I’m calling the landlord.” Martin Luther King Jr. never uttered the phrase, “I have a nightmare that someday people of all colours will willingly sit down and watch ‘Two Broke Girls.’” King Tut never said, “Does this tomb make me look fat?” And “May the Force be with you” — never once uttered by Abraham Lincoln.

As for this deeply profound and useful quotation:

darkedinburgh_up2I just said that. I know: wow. Let’s hear that again: “You can remain in neutral for only so long before you run out of gas.” Words for life. Words for rush hour traffic. Words for your next Facebook post.

I bet someone attributes it to Oprah.


Originally aired on CBC Radio’s “Breakaway.”


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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20 Responses to A kick in the aphorism

  1. backuphill says:

    I once corrected one of my acquaintances on Facebook because they were perpetuating one of these false attributions…needless to say, they didn’t appreciate it. “Any man is liable to err, only a fool persists in error.” – Cicero

  2. Paul says:

    Indeed/ “Great minds think alike.” the trouble being that everyone forgets the rest of this: “And fools seldom differ.”

  3. I like the John Lennon quote that is often mistaken as a slight against Jesus. What he really said was, “The only reason we are more popular than Jesus is because we have a better publicist.”

  4. Carrie Rubin says:

    I think you were the one who pointed me in the right direction on my favorite Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. Phil quote. But I still credit it to them when I use it. The list of possible originators of it is too long to include! 🙂

  5. List of X says:

    “You can remain in neutral for only so long before you run out of gas.” – And all this time, I was sure that this was a quote from Gandhi. I’m impressed.
    I’m not impressed with Gandhi’s stealing quotes from other people even long after his death.

  6. Do you know who the first person was to say “Play, it again, Sam” in a movie? Woody Alan! Ha! You were going to say Bogey, weren’t you? He actually said, “It was good enough for her so it’s good enough for me. Play it.” I guess the famous quote Gods wanted it shortened.

  7. ksbeth says:

    and i am the first to say, ‘better to run out of gas before your closed-door meeting, lest your vapor cloud overwhelm others.’

  8. Ned's Blog says:

    “A bird in the hand is worth two George Bushes.”
    Unfortunately, this lesser-known aphorism came much too late. Twice.

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