Quotes By Famous People That Are Actually Fake

Misinformation thrives in today’s information age. The plethora of wrongly attributed quotes is a type of fake news that we come across. But this is not a recent phenomenon. Misattributed quotes have colored the imaginations of poets, biographers, and philosophers who have used them as a tool for their writing. Political philosophers invented clever propaganda to incite animosity among their opponents by exploiting incorrect statements. My two favourite misattributed quotes are both falsely attributed to Albert Einstein “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein (possible source: Rita Mae Brown) and “Two things are infinite: The universe and human stupidity.” — Albert Einstein (true source unknown)

What do these 3 quotes have in common?

Quote 1: “Never respond to rudeness. When people are rude to you, they reveal who they are, not who you are.” Quote 2: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Quote 3: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

They all sound very nice and inspirational. Great quotes to include in any type of self-help article. The alleged author of the first one is Buddha, of the second one Aristotle, and of the last one Albert Einstein. The problem is that none of these statements were actually said by any of them.

The quote on rudeness is good advice. However, if you look around all the ancient materials attributed to the Buddha, you will never find anything close to it. The second quote is a bit more tricky. It is usually attributed to the great ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. The thing is that in reality it is actually a quote from historian Will Durant summarizing Aristotle’s thoughts. The last one is one of the myriad of quotes going around the internet whose purported author is Albert Einstein. Einstein is sort of like the Chuck Norris of the scientific world. A lot of quotes are attributed to him. While the former Nobel Prize winner did say some pretty smart stuff, most of his online quotes are actually fake.

Many of the quotes included in self-help articles are fake

If you scroll through many of the popular quote-based articles on the internet, you might notice the same thing. Whether it is a collection of quotes of the Buddha, or Einstein, many of the quotes listed actually don’t come from them. Even many of the huge self-help gurus peddle things without double checking. Many of the mantras of self-help are actually based on fake studies that don’t exist. Getting a quote out of a book doesn’t always guarantee that it’s a real quote. A lot of times, even the authors of big best-selling books haven’t checked the sources of their quotes.

The internet is rife with errors, that anyone can find a picture of a famous person and add words to it and make it seem real to any reader. The obvious problem is the internet is both a place for people to have fun as well as a place for people to do research. What is real simply fades into the background. It is much easier to just pull something you see from a website that seems reputable than to actually research the quote and its accuracy. This is why many of these quotes go undisputed for years.

Compare these two translation of the same quote by Marcus Aurelius:

Translation 1: “Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness — all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil.” Translation 2: “Begin the morning by saying to yourself: I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil.”

If you are using a quote from a non-English quote, keep in mind that there could be different translations of the quote. Play around with the words a little bit, and you might find that a slightly different translation exists.

Famous Misquotes

Misquotes are quotes that are not accurate. The person may have said something similar or the quote may have been paraphrased from the original source. Some of these misquotes are material differences and some are minor.

  • “Money is the root of all evil.” (misquote)

  • Correct version: “The love of money is the root of all evil”, according to Timothy 6:10 from the King James Bible

  • “The devil is in the details.” — Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (misquote)

  • Correct version: “God is in the details.”

  • “Life is far too important to be taken seriously.” — Oscar Wilde (misquoted)

  • Correct version: “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.”

  • “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” –Albert Einstein (possible correct source: Kurt Vonnegut)

  • possibly misquoted from, “Any scientist who couldn’t explain to an eight-year-old what he was doing was a charlatan.”

Famous Misattributed Quotes

Some of these quotes on this list are accurate, but the quote was not originated with this person. This means they are just quoting someone els

  • “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” — Mark Twain, or Jack Benny, or Muhammad Ali (true source unknown)

  • “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” — Mahatma Gandhi (true source unknown)

  • “Great things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” — Abraham Lincoln (true source unknown)

  • “Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.” —The Buddha (possible source: Swami Sivananda)

  • “The ends justify the means.” — Niccolo Machiavelli (possible source: Roman poet Ovid)

“An eye for an eye will make the world blind.”-Gandhi.

Mahatma Gandhi is well-known for his nonviolent approach to human rights advocacy. He was a crucial figure in India’s independence movement, arming the masses with the concept of peaceful protest and boycott. To combat injustice, political movements all around the world adopted his approach. Hence, it would make perfect sense if Gandhi said: “Eye for an Eye will make the world blind.” But, we have no record of him uttering those words in any of his speeches or writings. Gandhi’s contemporaries who saw and worked with him have no recollection of him saying so. The quote is a twist on the famous Biblical directive in the Book of Exodus[21:24]: “An Eye for an Eye. A tooth for a tooth”.

In 1914, Canadian parliamentarian George Perry Graham argued against the death penalty, citing the following reason: " We can argue all we like, but if capital punishment is being inflicted on some man, we are inclined to say: ‘It serves him right.’ That is not the spirit, I believe, in which legislation is enacted. If in this present age we were to go back to the old time of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ there would be very few hon. gentlemen in this House who would not, metaphorically speaking, be blind and toothless." This could be the first record of the quote. So, why was this phrase credited to Gandhi?

Louis Fischer, his biographer, might be the culprit. Fischer discusses the following in his 1947 book Gandhi and Stalin: "The shreds of individuality cannot be sewed together with a bayonet; nor can democracy be restored according to the Biblical injunction of an “eye for an eye” which, in the end, would make everybody blind." But he doesn’t say Gandhi said it. However, in another book, Life of Mahatma Gandhi, released in 1950, Fischer repeats the quote. He defines Gandhi’s Satyagraha or nonviolence policy as: "Satyagraha is the exact opposite of the policy of an-eye-for-an-eye-for-an-eye-for-an-eye which ends in making everybody blind." Though Gandhi never said these words, people often misquote him as having said them thanks to Louis Fischer.

“Let them eat cake.” -Marie Antoinette.

During the French Revolution (1789–1799), Queen Marie Antoinette was insensitive to her people’s sufferings. When her advisors told her that people couldn’t afford bread, she replied, “Let them eat cake. So goes the story. Except she didn’t say those words. “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” the original French quotation, translates to “Let them eat brioche.” Brioche, being a more luxurious type of bread, wouldn’t change the basic meaning of the phrase. But Marie Antoinette did not say that either.

The first published mention of the phrase connecting it to the queen was fifty years after the French revolution. In the 1843 edition of the journal Les Guêpes, writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr mentions he read the quote in a book dating 1760. Antoinette was born in 1755, making her five years old at the time of the reported saying. It’s doubtful she said it at that age or knew anything about people’s hardship.

There is no reference to Antoinette saying “Let them eat cake” in contemporary sources or media publications. Anti-monarchist philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau recalls the quote in his work Confessions, attributing it to a “great princess.” Again, Antoinette was only twelve years old at the time and was unlikely to be the alluded princess.

The quote’s origins may be traced back to 16th-century German folklore, in which a noblewoman laments why the poor do not eat sweet bread, instead of bread. This story may have been passed down through the years, and Rosseau most likely exploited it to incite anti-monarchy feelings among the French people.

While it is undeniable that Marie Antoinette was disconnected from the suffering of the French people and was notorious for her extravagant spending, she did not utter, “Let them eat cake.”

“Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.”- Mark Twain.

Along with Hemingway, fellow writer Mark Twain is credited with several quotations, which he didn’t say. Many projects, such as Mark Twain Quotes and Mark Twain Project Online, exist to debunk the misquotes.

There is no record of Twain saying “Politicians and diapers must be changed frequently, and for the same reason,” according to Robert Hirst, General Editor of Mark Twain Project Online. Hirst says the quote is a fabrication of Twitterverse. But what prompted the quote?

Mark Twain was an outspoken opponent of career politicians. “There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress,” wrote Twain in Puddn’head Wilson (1894). In his work What is a Man? (1906) Twain says “Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can.” It is clear Twain had no love for the political class. Perhaps this may have inspired Twiteratti to invent the quote. Given Twain’s contempt for politicians, perhaps he would have enjoyed the remark if he were still alive.

The quote, however, was stated by Robin Williams’ character in the 2006 film Man of the Year.

"Remember this ladies and gentleman: It’s an old phrase, basically anonymous, politicians are a lot like diapers, they should be changed frequently, and for the same reasons. Keep that in mind the next time you vote." This dialogue could be the inspiration for the quote. Creative social media users tied it to Mark Twain. But it is safe to say that Twain was not the man behind the quote.

“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”- Albert Einstein.

Much like Mark Twain, Albert Einstein is a popular figure with a number of misattributed quotes. One of the most common ones is: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” But did Einstein really say it? The earliest evidence of this quote was almost fifty years after Einstein’s death. In 2004 the quote appears in the book The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose written by Matthew Kelly. In the book, there is a chapter called “Everyone is a genius.” Kelly writes: Albert Einstein wrote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The question I have for you at this point of our journey together is, “What is your genius?” While Kelly makes this claim, we do not find it in any of Einstein’s speeches or writings. None of Einstein’s contemporaries recall him saying those words. It’s impossible to pinpoint the quote’s exact roots.

An essay titled “An Education Allegory,” published in the Journal of Education in 1898 might provide us with a clue. The essay connects animals with education. Amos Dolbear, a famous physicist, wrote the piece under the pseudonym Aesop Jr. Dolbear’s essay focused on the impossibility of a single testing standard for all children. In the piece, he describes an animal school where every animal is expected to be proficient in swimming, running, flying, and climbing. But, the animals end up questioning the “education” they’ve received. They prefer to focus on their unique strengths. They renounce their other skills, rejecting the school’s training. The eagle couldn’t climb a tree, but it could fly. Short-legged animals, such as the duck, continued to waddle rather than swim. Thus, the animals excelled in what they were good at. An Illinois newspaper, in 1905, turned Dolbear’s essay into a story titled “Jungle School Board.”They used animal allegories to discuss the absurdity of modern schooling. In the story, animals take their children to school. Everybody should learn how to climb trees, according to the monkey. The kangaroo wanted everyone to learn to jump, and the elephant desired that each animal “look wise,” like him. Because of the disagreements, all the animals left the school! Boston Herald published a version of this fable in 1946. Matthew Kelly must have picked up on this existing fable and attributed it to Einstein. But is safe to say Einstein had nothing to do with it.

There are many other misquotes attributed to famous historic figures. We should verify a quote and credit it to the right person.

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