Some of the quotes in our most famous memes are wrong.
Wrongly attributed. Wrongly stated. Wrongly shortened. Wrongly turned into
As journalists, PR specialists, or corporate communicators, we know the
importance of capturing quotes from our sources correctly. The same goes
for quotes made famous online, especially on social media—the quotes you’ve
heard again and again. Before you incorporate them into your work, confirm
who said the words, as well as what was actually said.
Below are a few of these famous false quotes, along with their corrections.
1. “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”—Oscar Wilde
What Oscar Wilde actually wrote in De Profundis, his emotional
letter from prison, is better:
“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions,
their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
2. “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”—Marilyn Monroe
This quote is often attributed to Marilyn Monroe, but it was coined by
historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. She wrote the book “Well-Behaved Women
Rarely Make History” in 1976.
3. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting
different results.”—Albert Einstein
These words originated from mystery novelist Rita Mae Brown. She wrote this
in her 1983 book “Sudden Death”:
“Unfortunately, Susan didn’t remember what Jane Fulton once said. ‘Insanity
is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different
4. “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”—Vince Lombardi
Vince Lombardi did say this, but the original exhortation came from Red
Sanders. Sanders—a UCLA Bruins football coach—said it in 1950.
[FREE GUIDE: 10 ways to improve your writing today.]
5. “You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you
As with Oscar Wilde’s quote, Churchill’s actual quote is much more
“What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to
make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after
we are gone?”
6. “There’s a sucker born every minute.”—P.T. Barnum
There is little credible evidence that this quote came from Barnum. Some
historians attribute it to Barnum’s competitors, who may have claimed
Barnum said it in order to discredit him.
7. “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”—George Orwell
Because this principle is so aptly illustrated in “Animal Farm,” many
attribute this quote to Orwell. However, the original quote came from
British politician Lord Acton, speaking of an absolute monarchy:
“Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are
almost always bad men.”
8. “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to
remove all doubt.”—Mark Twain
Though it seems perfectly plausible, Mark Twain did not originate this
sentiment. Maurice Switzer did in his 1907 book “Mrs. Goose, Her Book”:
“It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to
talk and remove all doubt of it.”
9. “Because it’s there.”—
This quote is attributed to George Mallory as his answer to questions about
why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. There is no record that he actually
said this, and it is now thought that a newspaper reporter made it up.
10. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”—Neil
Perhaps the most famous on our list, the accuracy of this quote has been
debated for decades. Neil Armstrong claimed that what he actually said was:
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The “a” was said to be lost in the static during the transmission. Analysis
of the transmission by linguists, computer scientists and historians has
It’s your turn, PR Daily readers. Please share your flawed
quotations and their corrections below.