Posted by Daniel Finkelstein at: http://timesonline.typepad.com/comment/2009/03/10-things-that.html
"Never said it: 10 famously inaccurate quotes
Following my post on Voltaire and his failure to say "I disagree with what you have to say but I defend to the death your right to say it" here are ten other famous characters who didn't say the things most often associated with them.
Sherlock Holmes: Elementary, my dear Watson
Except for the fact that it's not. The most notorious resident of Baker St never actually used these words in the original books. Not that that's stopped his onscreen counterparts.
Edmund Burke: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
And nothing is precisely what the statesman had to do with this phrase. Blame Bartlett's Familiar Quotations for the first mistaken attribution. The words do not appear in any of Burke's papers.
Benjamin Franklin: Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes
Franklin may have repeated this quote but, unlike so many of witticisms, he didn't come up with it. According to one source, Christopher Bullock was the first to make this point. In 1716 he wrote, "Tis impossible to be sure of anything but Death and Taxes."
G.K. Chesterton: When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing - they believe in anything
But they shouldn't believe that Chesterton actually said this. The redoubtable Oliver Kamm is on a mission to clear up the mystery.
John Maynard Keynes: When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?
Keynes may be the man of the moment but take care when you're using this phrase. Samuel Brittan is among those who believe that Keynes never said it, dismissing it as a 'banal misattribution.' The phrase in question, Brittan insists, was probably, "When I change my mind I say so, what do you do?"
Casablanca: Play it again Sam
As time goes by, more and more people believe that Ingrid Bergman used this phrase in Casablanca. Only she didn't. Just watch.
Vladimir Lenin: Useful idiots
The catchphrase may have entered the political lexicon of the Soviet Union but there's no indication that it came from Lenin. The Library of Congress itself is on record saying that there's no trace of it in any of Lenin's works.
Jim Callaghan: Crisis, what crisis?
Credit the Sun with this one. Their pointed headline may have summed up the general mood at the time but it also saddled Callaghan with something he'd never actually said.
Plato: Only the dead have seen the end of war.
This phrase famously opens the movie Black Hawk Down but, despite the epigram, it has nothing to do with Plato. Instead George Santayana penned it in his 1924 Soliloquies in England. General Douglas MacArthur is responsible for misleading the entire West Point cadet corps by quoting it in his farewell address of 1962.
Winston Churchill: Show me a young Conservative and I'll show you somone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I'll show you with someone with no brains.
No-one can accuse Churchill of stinting us on the good quotation front. But this famous phrase, which comes in several variations, was not one of his originals. The debate over who first came up with it still rages. George Bernard Shaw? Disraeli? Otto von Bismarck? Your answers on a postcard.
Posted by Daniel Finkelstein on March 18, 2009 at 02:46 PM in Miscellaneous Permalink