Quote, misquote


"Fresh ideas are not always the best ideas" - or so the quotation goes, summing up the sentiment that, sometimes, a really great saying can be the most effective form of communication.

However, sometimes the words of the great and the good can become misconstrued throughout history. These misquotations can be a simple mistake, attributed to the wrong person, or changed over time for ease - but The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations aims to set things right. In celebration of the book's 70th anniversary, we've dug through their archives of famous misquotations, and added a few of our own into the mix...

Picture credits: Rex Features

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well"

    The truth: It's one of the most famous lines in theatre, but Hamlet never actually said "Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well" in Shakespeare's play. The correct reading is "Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio." Scholars maintain the line was altered because Horatio was cut out in shortened versions of the play.

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: All we have done is awaken a sleeping giant

    The truth: Supposedly said by Admiral Isoruko Yamamoto, the man behind the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, there is no evidence Yamamoto ever used these words, although his charcter did say a similar line in the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Backwards and in high heels"

    The truth: Dancer Ginger Rogers is famously mis-quoted as saying she did "everything her partner Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels". In fact, Rogers denied it completely in her autobiography My Story, attributing the comment to a cartoon of her in a Los Angeles newspaper.

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Beam me up, Scotty"

    The truth: Beloved of trekkies everywhere, Captain Kirk never actually said this famous line in the TV series Star Trek. The nearest equivalent is "Beam us up, Mr Scott".

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Elementary, my dear Watson"

    The truth: Despite what dozens of TV series and films would have us believe, Sherlock Holmes never uttered these words to Watson in any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books.

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "The English are a nation of shopkeepers"

    The truth: French tyrant Napoleon is often credited with calling the Brits a "nation of shopkeepers", but Scottish economist Adam Smith actually got there first, in 1776's The Wealth of Nations.

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Facts are stupid things"

    The truth: Widely known as a misquote of John Adams statement "facts are stubborn things" by former US President Ronald Reagan in a speech, Reagan actually uttered the quote correctly several times before slipping up with "facts are stupid things - stubborn things, I should say". Naturally, it was the slip up that made quotation history.

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Failure is not an option"

    The truth: Gene Kranz, the lead flight director for the Apollo 13 mission, supposedly said this just before the spaceship struck trouble. Although Kranz used the quote as the title of his book, it was actually only ever said by his character in the film Apollo 13.

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Follow the money"

    The truth: Another case of film being confused with actual events, "follow the money" was a tip off by a mysterious source named "Deep Throat" to Washington Post reporters Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein in All The President's Men, a film about the Watergate scandal. When Vanity Fair ran an article revealing that, in real life, 'Deep Throat' was FBI Deputy Director W.Mark Felt, the press mistakenly attributed a film script for a real life quote, attriubuting it to him in reports.

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "God does not play dice"

    The truth: A statement often mistakenly attributed to Albert Einstein. What Einstein actually wrote, in a letter to physicist Max Born in 1926, was "I, at any rate, am convinced that he (referring to God), does not play dice".

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "A good day to bury bad news"

    The truth: Following the news of the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, British governement advisor Jo Moore sent an email reading "It is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors' expenses?". Her email was leaked and sparked a national outrage - and Moore's quote was mis-remembered as "a good day to bury bad news".

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned"

    The truth: Often believed to originate from classical mythology, the phrase was actually a misquoted line from William Congreve's 1697 play The Mourning Bride: "Heaven has no rage, like love to hatred turned/Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorned"

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Hug a hoodie"

    Prime Minister David Cameron never actually told us to hug a "hoodie" (English slang for a young hooligan in a hooded sweatshirt). In 2006, he released a speech on social issues, he stated "We - the people in suits - often see hoodies as aggressive...but hoodies are more defensive than offensive." Labour politician Vernon Coaker ridiculed Cameron for saying "Let's hug a hoodie, whatever they have done" - and "hug a hoodie" became the public perception of Cameron's speech.

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?"

    The truth: Supposedly one of Mae West's most famous lines from the film She Done Him Wrong, the actress never said the words until her final film Sextette, in 1978 - when she referred to a gun rather than a pistol.

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Lead on Macduff"

    The truth: Another Shakespeare mis-quote - this line is known as Macbeth's final words in the play, and is used to encourage someone to take the lead in the knowledge that you will follow. But the character actually says "Lay on, Macduff / And damned be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'"

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Let them eat cake"

    The truth: A quote slanderously attributed to Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, on being told her people had no bread - but there is no record of her ever saying these words.

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Me Tarzan, you Jane"

    The truth: Thought by many to be the first words spoken by Tarzan to his future wife, Jane Porter, in the book and film Tarzan of the Apes . The line was actually said by Olympic swimmer Johnny Wesimuller in Photoplay Magazine, summing up his role in the film.

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Not tonight, Josephine"

    The truth: Supposedly said by a tired Napoleon to his wife, Empress Josephine, in response to her amorous advances, but the phrase does not appear in any historical accounts.

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind"

    The truth: The famous first words of astronaut Neil Armstrong upon landing on the moon in 1969 were actually "That's one small step for a man" - but the 'a' was blurred in transmission.

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Play it again, Sam"

    The truth: Supposedly said by Ingrid Bergman as Isla in Casablanca, Bergman's actual line was "Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By".

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated"

    The truth: The rather quotable writer Mark Twain has actually been misquoted in popular culture. Twain's death was misreported in several newspaper accounts in 1897, so Twain responded in the New York Journal with the rather less exciting statement, "The report of my death was an exaggeration".

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Shaken, not stirred"

    The truth: James Bond's drinks order was actually far more specific in Ian Fleming's thriller Dr No: "A medium Vodka dry Martini - with a slice of lemon peel. Shaken and not stirred."

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "The war to end war"

    The truth: This common phrase used to describe the First World War is often associated with writer HG Wells, with his book titled The War That Will End War. But the first use of the phrase was by George Bernard Shaw's 1921 play Back to Methuselah.

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Whatever 'in love' means"

    The truth: This is a popularized version of the Prince of Wales's response, when asked if he was in love with Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. His actual words were, "Yes...whatever that may mean".

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Whenever I hear the world culture, I reach for my pistol"

    The truth: Often attributed to Nazi leader Hermann Goering, the line is actually from a nationalist German play, written in 1933 by Hanns Johst.

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do"

    The truth: This phrase is a misquote from a saying of St Ambrose in the 15th century, who said "When I go to Rome, I fast on a Saturday, but here (in Milan), I do not. Do you also follow the custom of whatever church you attend, if you do not want to give or receieve scandal".

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "Why don't you come up and see me sometime?"

    The truth: Another alteration of a Mae West line from the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong. Her actual words were "Why don't you come up some time, and see me".

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "You've never had it so good"

    The truth: This comment is widely attributed to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in the prosperous Fifties, who actually said, "Let us be frank about it: most of our people have never had it so good". Interestingly, a few years earlier, American Democrat Adlai Stevenson campaigned for President with the slogan "You never had it so good".

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto"

    The truth: This phrase from The Wizard Of Oz - often used to refer to a drastic change in circumstances or location - are often misquoted. Judy Garland's Dorothy actually says, "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

  • Quote, misquote

    Misquote: "I want to suck your blood"

    The truth: Despite countless impressions (mostly executed on halloween), Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) never uttered this now iconic line in the 1931 film Dracula.


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