We throw around oft-repeated nuggets of wisdom all the time, but how often do we actually validate the source of what we’re saying? Not very often, it seems, since many falsely attributed quotes like the ones listed below are still prevalent today.
The Quote: “640KB is all the memory anyone will ever need.”
Filed under the “Oh, you!” category of popular quotes, this line is supposed to illustrate how even the pioneers of computer technology had no idea what direction things were going in (we’re assuming that everyone reading this knows how little 640KB memory is).
The quote is sometimes forced into the mouth of a random IBM employee, where it was still never said. However, there is a kernel of almost-truth to the IBM thing. A similar quote may have originated from IBM suggesting that their then-current customer base shouldn’t need more memory… not that anyone in general wouldn’t.
The Quote: “We will bury you!”
Perhaps the most famous line relating to the Cold War is the above threat from Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev. Usually interpreted as a warning of a nuclear war, this one is so pervasive that the media still uses it in place of the actual quote, “We will dig you in.”
What’s the difference? Well for starters, “we will dig you in” sounds about a thousand times less violent. Second, it was meant to imply that the working class would eventually revolt and Capitalism would be buried by history. The misquote is due to Russian and English slang terms not being easy to translate in the heat of the moment… say, when you’re threatening the entire Western world.
The Quote: “The Earth was blue, but there was no God.”
Let’s chalk-up another one for our friends the Soviets. Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space. Putting the quote in that context turns it into some sort of astro-atheist zinger that’s still popular in Western media.
This one is a fusion of two quotes. “The Earth is blue. How beautiful. It is amazing” is the actual line from Yuri’s flight. The God bit comes once again from Kruschev, who said “I don’t see any God up here” in reference to the Soviet anti-religious propaganda in the USSR.
The Quote: “Et tu, Brutus?”
These words are alleged to be the last thing Caesar said before he was brutally murdered by a group that included longtime friend and dagger enthusiast Marcus Brutus. It’s also among the most famous lines ever used in Shakespeare, which is exactly where the line comes from.
The problem with quoting someone’s last words when they’re being murdered is that the scene tends to be just a little chaotic. When the gang jumped Caesar the adrenaline pumping through their veins was most likely distracting enough to prevent anyone from trying to remember what he was saying as they stabbed him to death. A similar example is Gandhi’s last words, translated as “Oh God,” after he was shot. If that’s what he actually said, we may never know, but there’s no clear record of it, because when someone opens fire in the middle of a crowd people tend to get a bit noisy.
But back to Caesar. There’s obviously no way of proving/disproving the Shakespeare line, but it has been contested at least once. “Kai su, tenon?” roughly translates as “You too, my child?” and has been offered as a possible alternative to the quote we all now.
The Quote: “I can see Russia from my house.” (Or some variation of the phrase).
American politics is full of gaffes, but few are remembered as fondly as those made by that plucky Alaskan maverick. Sarah Palin is known to say some pretty wacky things and it doesn’t help matters that she intentionally uses folksy imagery to appear better connected to her target demographic.
But regardless, Sarah Palin never claimed that she could see Russia from her house at all. The closest thing she said was that Russia was Alaska’s neighbor and that you can see Russia from a specific Alaskan island. Not only is that significantly less crazy, it’s also entirely true (the island in question is Little Diomede, by the by).
The Quote: “When I hear the word ‘culture’, I reach for my gun.”
Nazis: is there anything they won’t say? Like many political misquotes this one seems genuine because the quote itself doesn’t really disagree with the image we have of the person who allegedly said it. Though popularly slapped on Goering, this one has also been handed to practically any high ranking Nazi official. But here’s the thing: there’s no record of anyone saying it.
There is, however, a similar quote from the 1933 play Schlageter (which was written by a Nazi). The line itself translates differently, however: “When I hear the word ‘culture’, I release the safety catch on my Browning.”
The Quote: “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”
Oh boy. Is there anything Karl Marx said that hasn’t been horribly mangled by America’s freedom loving super patriots?
This is the most commonly quoted line from Marx. It’s also taken out of its original context. The full quote reads: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” And now you can see how people have been getting it wrong for decades.
Oh wait, no you can’t. Even in its full form the quote is still more ambiguous than anything. While it’s possible that the line has the negative connotations most folks think it does, another interpretation reads it meaning the exact opposite. In Marx’s day opium was viewed as both a source of social conflict (drug addiction and the Opium Wars) as well as a benefit to the medical community using it as a painkiller. Whether he meant the former or the latter (or both) will remain a mystery.
Benjamin Franklin/The Bible
The Quote: “God helps those who help themselves.”
This one is a solid double play, having been forced into the mouths of both Benjamin Franklin and the Bible, which admittedly doesn’t have much in the way of a mouth. We will start by saying that the line itself doesn’t appear in the Bible, nor does anything close to it appear in the text. Fans of the Old Testament may be quick to point out that God’s whole shtick was to help the helpless and the oppressed that had faith in Him regardless of their own ability.
How this one got slapped on Benjamin Franklin is anyone’s guess, though historically he’s a great guy for misattributing quotes to.
- – Bill Gates: http://classicalhomeschooling.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/gates.jpg
- – Nikita Kruschev: http://jfklancer.com/photos/newphotos/khrushchev.jpg
- – Yuri Gagarin: http://www.aerospaceguide.net/spacehistory/yuri_gagarin.jpg
- – Julius Caesar: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-lZCWakowpTA/TYZOy59tDlI/AAAAAAAAB4A/Nghi4W3onYY/s400/Julius%2BCaesar.jpg
- – Sarah Palin: http://static5.businessinsider.com/image/4d24c20b4bd7c87957220000/sarah-palin.jpg
- – Hermann Goering: http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/holoprelude/images/Goering%20the%20gentleman%20Knight.jpg
- – Karl Marx: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d4/Karl_Marx_001.jpg/250px-Karl_Marx_001.jpg
- – Benjamin Franklin/The Bible: http://www.nndb.com/people/578/000026500/franklin2color80.jpg