Today: Did they really say that?
We’re a quotable society, and we love to echo the famous words of others. However, many of the most popular quotes we love to recount are actually wrong. Here are some of our favorite legendary misquotations.
Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
This short, pithy quote has long been attributed to Gandhi, and although the message sounds right, the words don’t exactly sound like his. The New York Times states that the closest quote we have to this that we know was said by Gandhi is, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change… We need not wait to see what others do.”
Machiavelli: “The ends justify the means.”
Machiavelli certainly had this attitude in mind when he wrote his 16th-century political manifesto The Prince. Still, he didn’t actually say it, and instead, a similar quote we do have attributed to him is less ruthless: “One must consider the final result.” Another, almost identical quote can be attributed to the poet Ovid who wrote in Heroides: “The result justifies the deeds.”
Neil Armstrong: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
This one’s a bit weird and complicated. Neil Armstrong is often quoted as having said, “That’s one small step for man…” which, grammatically, is not what he meant to say. In this sense, the word man represents the same idea as mankind, making the quote kind of wonky.
However, Armstrong swore for years that he said the words “a man” and that people were unable to hear the word “a.” Over time, he relented, saying he might have misspoken simply because he was nervous, but in 2006, a computer programmer actually analyzed the audio and stated that the word “a” was, in fact, said.
Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat cake!”
Marie Antoinette never actually said this. Instead, it came from a book titled Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which was published in 1782—11 years before Marie Antoinette was executed. Also, the line was “Let them eat brioche,” a kind of heavy, bread-like French pastry. It’s likely the attribution to Marie Antoinette occurred because the people of France were highly incensed with the Royals, and the belief simply fueled the flames of revolution.
Gloria Steinem: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
Gloria Steinem herself actually credits Australian writer Irina Dunn with this phrase, which Dunn says she wrote on the door of public bathrooms when she was a student in the 70s. According to Steinem, the quote is directly related to the witticism: “God needs man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
Marilyn Monroe: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”
Marilyn Monroe never said this. Instead, it was a quote from writer and Harvard professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. In addition, the wording used was “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Ulrich penned the quote in 1976 and wrote a book with the same title in 2007.
Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Although this sounds exactly like something Wilde himself would say, these words are never actually a part of any of his writings. He has similar quotes, however, that we can certainly attribute to him, and one is this: “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
Patrick Henry: “Give me liberty or give me death!”
Patrick Henry’s 1775 speech at the Virginia convention wasn’t written down, so we have no record of what exactly he said on that day. The quote comes from William Wirt’s biography of Henry, which he wrote in 1817, and which was widely discredited by his peers like Thomas Jefferson. In addition, the famous quote is also very similar to one from a play written in 1712: “It is not now time to talk of aught/But chains or conquest, liberty or death.”
By Julia Tilford, contributor for Ripleys.com