List of misquotations  

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A famous misquotation is a well-known phrase attributed to someone who either did not actually say it in that form of words, or did not say it at all (see language attestment).

It may not be known how these phrases came about, but when possible, their type of origin is noted in this way:

  • [P] Parody or satire of the original.
  • [C] A corruption or mistranslation of the original phrase, possibly accidental, which became better known than the original.
  • [M] A deliberate misquoting or made-up quote intended to discredit the alleged speaker.
  • [A] Attributed to a well-known person to improve the appearance of the phrase or the person.

Additionally, the question may be asked whether most last words or not also misquotations.


Arts and entertainment

  • "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." (or similar) — Mark Twain [C]
    • Actual quotation: "The report of my death is an exaggeration." In 1897 a journalist was sent to inquire after Twain's health, thinking he was near death; in fact it was his cousin who was very ill. Twain recounted the event in the New York Journal of June 2, 1897. Contrary to popular belief, his obituary was not prematurely published.
  • "Gild the lily" — William Shakespeare, King John [C]
    • Actual quotation: "To gild refined gold, to paint the lily"
  • "Pride comes before a fall." [C]
    • Actual quote: "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." From the Book of Proverbs, chapter 16, verse 18, The Bible, King James Version. The line is part of The Beatles' song "I'm a Loser": "(And so it's true,) pride comes before a fall."
  • "Nul points" – Eurovision Song Contest [C]
    • The French phrase is often attributed to the annual Eurovision Song Contest in the media and elsewhere, most notably in the episode of Father Ted, "Song for Europe". However, only points from one to twelve (Template:Lang-fr) are given during the song contest, and even in earlier years when it was possible to receive zero points, the phrase "nul points" was never read out. However the phrase is not used to refer to a singer getting no points in a single round, which happens to many singers/groups, but to those who score no points in the whole competition.
  • "Hello, my name is Michael Caine" – Michael Caine [A]
    • He never actually said this, though in 1983 Caine was given the line to say as an in-joke in the film Educating Rita.
    • Caine explained during an appearance on Michael Parkinson's TV show that Peter Sellers had the message on his answering machine: "My name is Michael Caine and I just want to tell you that Peter Sellers isn't in. And not many people know that".
    • The line was parodied in Harry Enfield's Television Programme by Paul Whitehouse, who introduced himself with the line "My name is Michael Paine, and I am a nosey neighbour."
    • "My name is Michael Caine" – This line was recorded by Michael Caine for the single "Michael Caine" by the British music group Madness in 1984.
  • "Well, here's another fine mess you've gotten me into." – Oliver Hardy [C]
    • The version of the phrase often used by Hardy was the line "Here's another nice mess you've gotten me into." The now better-known corruption of the phrase most likely comes from the title of the Laurel and Hardy short film Another Fine Mess.
  • "If I can't dance, I don't want to be in your revolution" — Emma Goldman [C]
    • In 1973, printer Jack Frager coined the phrase to print under Goldman's face on a t-shirt. The line was abridged from a passage about her dispute with a comrade who claimed that "it did not behoove an agitator to dance."
  • "I've just had eighteen straight whiskeys in a row – I do believe that is some sort of record" — Dylan Thomas [M]
    • Or a variation on that theme. Thomas was infamous for his heavy drinking, and these were supposedly his last words. In actual fact he said "I see white mice and roses".

Politics and war

  • "The British are coming!" – Paul Revere [C]
    • Revere's mission depended on secrecy and the countryside was filled with British army patrols; also, most colonial residents at the time considered themselves British. The quotation is more likely based on (although not taken verbatim from) the later famous poem "Paul Revere's Ride". The alarm, if Revere had said it out loud, would most likely have been worded, "The Regulars are coming!"
  • "The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash." – Winston Churchill [M]
    • Churchill's assistant, Anthony Montague-Browne later said that although Churchill had not uttered these words, he later admitted that he wished he had.
  • "When I hear the word 'culture', I reach for my gun" – Hermann Göring (and others) [C]
    • It is not known whether Göring or any other Nazi leader uttered this quote. The quotation most likely originated from the 1933 play Schlageter by Nazi poet laureate Hanns Johst. The play features a student who, in thinking it would be better to fight for his country than pursue his study, declares "Wenn ich 'Kultur' höre... entsichere ich meine Browning!" (when I hear the word 'culture', I release the safety catch on my Browning (pistol)).
  • "If they have no bread, let them eat cake!" ("S'ils n'ont plus de pain, qu’ils mangent de la brioche.") — Marie Antoinette [M or A]
    • The original quote comes from Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions: "I recalled the make-shift of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread and who replied: ‘Let them eat brioche’." ("Je me rappelai le pis-aller d’une grande princesse à qui l’on disait que les paysans n’avaient pas de pain, et qui répondit, qu’ils mangent de la brioche.") He was referring to an incident in Grenoble, 1740, ten years before Marie Antoinette was born. It has been speculated that he was actually writing of Maria Theresa of Spain or one of various other aristocrats though no evidence has ever been offered for this. In the meantime, Marie Antoinette's attribution to the quote was current in her time in antiroyalist propaganda, most likely to hasten her way to the guillotine (An Underground Education, Richard Zacks, 1997).
  • "I cannot tell a lie. It was I who chopped down the cherry tree." — George Washington [A]
    • Washington never made this statement when his father asked who had cut down the tree. The cherry tree story was actually written in the 1800s by biographer Parson Weems and the tree was not "chopped down" in it. Nor is it true that Washington carved his false teeth from cherrywood after his father punched his teeth out.
  • "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." — Philip Sheridan [M]
    • Actual quotation is said to be "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead," though Sheridan denied ever saying it.
  • "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." — Lord Acton [C]
    • Actual quotation: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".
  • "The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic." — Joseph Stalin [M]
    • This quotation has popularly been attributed to Stalin as early as 1958, but, at this time, there is no evidence that it is genuine.
  • "Et tu, Brute?" — Julius Caesar [C]
    • Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar has Caesar saying these Latin words, meaning "Even you, Brutus?"; a similar quotation is mentioned by Suetonius, but in Greek ("καί σύ τέκνον?" meaning "Even you, my son?") rather than Latin. However, there is no evidence that Julius Caesar actually uttered these words.
  • "We are going to build the Tories out of London." — Herbert Morrison [M]
    • Though widely attributed, no evidence has been found that Morrison said any such thing. The Local Government Chronicle offered a reward for anyone who could source the quotation.
  • "We are the masters now." — Hartley Shawcross [C]
    • Actual quotation: "We are the masters at the moment and shall be for some considerable time." In a 1945 debate to repeal the Conservatives' "Trade Disputes Act" of 1927 this followed a quotation from Through the Looking-Glass in which Humpty-Dumpty observed that the question of definitions of words depended upon who was master.
  • "Crisis? What Crisis?" — attributed to British Prime Minister James Callaghan [P]
    • "Crisis? What Crisis?" — was the headline in The Sun on January 11, 1979. Callaghan had been asked what his policy was in view of the 'mounting chaos' and replied "I promise you that if you look at it from outside, and perhaps you're taking rather a parochial view at the moment, I don't think that other people in the world would share the view that there is mounting chaos." The Sun may have taken the phrase from the title of an album by Supertramp released in 1975.
  • "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." — Benjamin Franklin [A]
    • A phrase commonly attributed to Franklin. This quotation is an excerpt from a letter written in 1755 from the Assembly to the Governor of Pennsylvania, and it may or may not have originated from Franklin. See Those who would give up Essential Liberty.
  • "I was recently on a tour of Latin America, and the only regret I have was that I didn't study Latin harder in school so I could converse with those people." — Dan Quayle [M]
  • "Hey Ram"Mahatma Gandhi (last words) [C]
    • Gandhi's memorial (or Samādhi) at Rāj Ghāt, New Delhi, bears the epigraph "Hē Ram", (Devanagari: हे ! राम or, He [[Rama|Template:IAST]]), which may be translated as "Oh God". These are widely believed to be Gandhi's last words after he was shot, though the veracity of this statement has been disputed.
  • "Only the dead have seen the end of war" – Plato [A]
    • Attributed to Plato by General Douglas MacArthur in his farewell address to the cadets at West Point, and recently reinforced by its use at the beginning of Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down. This quote cannot be found in any work of Plato. It appears in George Santayana's 1924 Soliloquies in England.
  • "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win." [A]
    • Attributed to Gandhi with no known citation. A close variant, however – "First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you" – appeared in a 1914 US trade union address
  • "I can see Russia from my house." – Sarah Palin [P]
    • During an interview with Charlie Gibson, Palin said about Russia: "They're our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska." However, it was actually Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live, portraying and satirizing Palin, who said the famous quote.

Science and technology

  • "Houston, we have a problem." [C]
    • This is a misstatement of the actual communication between the Apollo 13 astronauts and Mission Control in Houston immediately after the oxygen tank rupture that caused the intended lunar landing to be aborted. At 02 days, 07 hours, 55 minutes, 19 seconds, Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert stated "OK, Houston, we've had a problem here", which was reiterated fifteen seconds later by Commander Jim Lovell saying "Ah, Houston, we've had a problem. We've had a main B bus undervolt." The popularization of this misquote is partly due to the film Apollo 13, which used it in the film, and in its promotional materials. Brian Grazer knew of its inaccuracy, but used it anyway as dramatic license.
  • "Billions and billions." — Carl Sagan [P]
    • Carl Sagan insisted for years he never said it; as he explained in the first chapter of his book Billions & Billions, it was far too vague an expression. He tells in this book that when filming Cosmos, he put a large emphasis on the B in Billion, because at the time people were more familiar with Millions. The quotation actually comes from Johnny Carson's impersonation of Carl Sagan.
  • "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." – Neil Armstrong [C]
    • Many people believe this is a famous misquotation, but it's actually a famous misspoken statement. The actual statement that Armstrong spoke when he first set foot on the moon was, in fact, missing an a before man. Without the a, the words man and mankind are interchangeable, thus obscuring the contrast between the two clauses of Armstrong's intended statement. At the time, NASA attempted to explain the missing article as having been lost in the original transmission due to the limitations of the technology of the time, which led to the common belief that Armstrong has been misquoted. There have been recent attempts (in 2006) to reveal the missing a through digital analysis of the audio recording, but the reports of the analysis have not been peer-reviewed. Explained at Armstrong himself, in his book, First Man, p. 494, stated that he did not consider himself to be particularly articulate, and that while he had intended to say "a man", he had a habit of omitting syllables when communicating via radio.
  • "Astrology is a science in itself and contains an illuminating body of knowledge. It taught me many things, and I am greatly indebted to it. Geophysical evidence reveals the power of the stars and the planets in relation to the terrestrial. In turn, astrology reinforces this power to some extent. This is why astrology is like a life-giving elixir to mankind." – Albert Einstein in the Huters astrologischer Kalender [A]
    • Actually, Einstein had very negative thoughts about astrology.
  • "Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one." — Bill Gates [A]
    • Charles J Sykes – incorrectly attributed to Microsoft founder Bill Gates possibly because he is frequently described as being well aware of his nerdiness.
  • "640K ought to be enough for anybody." – Bill Gates [M]
    • Gates admits that he has indeed made statements that have turned out to be false, but he never said this commonly attributed line.

Business and industry

  • "To get rich is glorious." — Deng Xiaoping [C]
    • Innumerable newspapers and other publications have attributed this quotation to the late Chinese leader. It's supposed to be Deng's exhortation to the Chinese people at the start of his reforms. However, no one has ever been able to find an original source of this. See this article by Evelyn Iritani in the Los Angeles Times.
  • "Money is the root of all evil." — Jesus, the Bible [C]
    • 1 Timothy 6:10 (attributed to Paul, not Jesus) reads, "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (King James Version). Like the English word "all", the Koine word Template:Polytonic (the form used in this verse is Template:Polytonic) can have different meanings according to context. Among other meanings, it can be used refer to absolutely all of something (for example, John 1:3), a large quantity of something (for example, Matthew 3:5), or every type of something (for example, Luke 11:42). Most modern translations remove the ambiguity by rendering the expression: "all kinds of evil" (or equivalent), preferring the third meaning listed above.
  • "I have seen the future, and it works." [M]


  • "Anything that can go wrong, will" (and variations on this theme) — Edward A. Murphy, Jr. [C]
    • Actual quote uncertain. Variously, "If that guy has any way of making a mistake, he will" and "If there's more than one way to do a job, and one of those ways will result in disaster, then somebody will do it that way". Murphy's law has been purposely misrepresented and sometimes simply misinterpreted to mean "something will always go wrong" or "nothing will ever work perfectly". This is actually a statement of Sod's Law. Murphy's Law is really a design principle: if something can be done in more than one way (such as inserting a two-socket plug the wrong way around), somebody will eventually do it. The solution is to design defensively – if the plug is asymmetrical, it simply can't be plugged in the wrong way around. There is evidence that Murphy himself did not mean it this way when he said it; for more details, read the article Murphy's Law.
  • "Can't we all just get along?" – Rodney King [C]
    • His actual quotation, in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, was "People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?"


  • "Football isn't a matter of life or death, it's much more important than that." — Bill Shankly [C]
    • The real quotation was said by Liverpool F.C. manager Bill Shankly in 1981 on a Granada Television talk show called 'Live from Two' hosted by Shelley Rohde, and it was "Someone said 'football is more important than life and death to you' and I said 'Listen, it's more important than that'."
  • "... the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field..." — John Facenda, the famous voice of NFL Films (the official film production company of the National Football League) [A]
    • Steve Sabol, current president of NFL Films, denies that Facenda ever used the phrase, and the NFL Films highlight reel of the famous "Ice Bowl" game was narrated by Bill Woodson, not Facenda. It is believed that the phrase was popularized by ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman, who frequently uttered it while trying to imitate Facenda's distinctive voice.

Famous misquotations of fictional persons

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  • "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well." — Hamlet, by William Shakespeare [C]
    • Actual quote: "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy."
  • "When I first saw you I fell in love and you smiled because you knew." — Hamlet, by William Shakespeare [A] Often attributed to Act 2, Scene 2
  • "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" — Perez in Mourning Bride, by William Congreve [C]
    • Actual quote: "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."
  • "Elementary, my dear Watson." — Sherlock Holmes [C]
    • The complete phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson" does not appear in any of the 60 Holmes stories written by Doyle. It appears for the first time at the very end of the 1929 film The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

Film and television

  • "Fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy ride." – from the 1950 film All About Eve [C]
    • Actual quote: "Fasten your seatbelts—it's gonna be a bumpy night!" The quote, uttered by Bette Davis's character Margo Channing, was perhaps corrupted as it makes more sense to buckle for a ride somewhere.
  • "Just the facts, Ma'am." — Jack Webb as Sgt. Friday on Dragnet. [C]
    • Actual quote: "All we want are the facts, ma'am." The famous quote comes from 1953 recording by satirist Stan Freberg — a recording called "St. George and the Dragonet", which was a Dragnet spoof.
  • "Zulus. Thousands of 'em." – from the 1964 film Zulu [C]
    • Actual quote: "Sentries have come in from the hills, Mr Bromhead, sir.." (he then has to direct his report Lt Chard and concludes) "The sentries report Zulus to the south west. Thousands of them". It was not said by Michael Caine's character Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, but by Colour Sgt.Bourne [Nigel Green] to Lt Chard [Stanley Baker]
  • "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." — John Wayne in Hondo [P]
    • Actual quote: "A man ought'a do what he thinks is best."
  • "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." — Alan Ladd in Shane [P]
    • Combination of two actual quotes from the film Joe:"I couldn't do what I gotta do if I hadn't always knowed that I could trust ya" and later, Shane: "A man has to be what he is."
  • "Damn it, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a...!" Dr. Leonard McCoy on Star Trek [P].
    • On the TV series, the expletive damn it was never uttered by McCoy preceding this phrase owing to television censorship guidelines in force in the 1960s. It may have come from a Saturday Night Live parody, "The Last Voyage of the Enterprise." This misquote gained further popularity when Karl Urban used it in J.J. Abrams 2009 reboot – he did use the expletive, but the actual line was "Damn it, man", as it was directed at Spock, not Kirk.
  • "Play it again, Sam." — Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca [C]
    • Actual quote: Ingrid Bergman's character Ilsa Lund said, "Play it once, Sam, for old times' sake." Then she said, "Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By." Later, Rick says, "You played it for her, you can play it for me...if she can stand to listen to it, I can. Play it." However, the "incorrect" phrase is the title of Play It Again, Sam, a Woody Allen movie about a man who is a huge fan of Casablanca.
  • "Oooh, you dirty rat!" — James Cagney [C]
    • Actual quote: "Mmm, that dirty, double-crossin' rat," in 1931's Blonde Crazy.
  • "Top of the world, Ma!" — James Cagney as Cody Jarrett. [C]
    • Actual quote: "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" from the finale of 1949's White Heat.
  • "If you build it, they will come." — The Voice in Field of Dreams [C]
    • Actual quote: "If you build it, he will come." In the quote, "he" refers to Shoeless Joe Jackson and later to John Kinsella. The misquotation is possibly a conflation of The Voice's actual words with Terence Mann's line, "People will come, Ray."
  • "Do you feel lucky, punk?" — Dirty Harry. [C]
    • Actual quote: "'ve got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"
  • "Throw another shrimp on the barbie" — Paul Hogan in a series of Australian Tourist Commission commercials on American TV. [C]
    • Actual quote: "I'll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you."
  • "Why don't you come up and see me sometime?" — Mae West as Lady Lou in the film She Done Him Wrong. [C]
    • Actual quote: "Why don't you come up some time and see me? I'm home every evening."
    • In I'm No Angel West's character says "Come up and see me sometime".
  • "Oh no, Mr. Bill!" – Mr. Bill skit from Saturday Night Live. [C]
    • Actual quote: "Oh, no!"
    • What makes this corrupted quote strange is that Mr. Bill was the one who always said, "Oh, no!"
  • "Why can't I quit you?" – Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain [P]
    • This phrase is often used on the Russ Parr Morning Show by the host during his parodies of the movie. The actual line from the movie reads, "I wish I knew how to quit you."
  • "And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those meddling KIDS!!!" – various Scooby Doo villains upon being caught, [C] [P]
    • Actual quote: The above is actually a pastiche of various lines from various villains put together. Some villains do not utter any parts of the phrase. Some villains remain silent. The above line was used in a DirecTV commercial using the Scooby Doo characters, however.
  • "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!" – Jack Nicholson as Col. Nathan R. Jessep, A Few Good Men [C]
    • The actual quote occurs in dialogue between Jessep and Lt. Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise).
      Jessep: You want answers?
      Kaffee: I want the truth!
      Jessep: You can't handle the truth!

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "List of misquotations" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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