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Five famous mis-quotations and mis-attributions

by The Concordian October 20, 2015
Five famous mis-quotations and mis-attributions

Highly-recognized phrases you didn’t know were said by someone else, or never said at all

  1. “Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic.”

Writer: Sara King-Abadi (Contributor)

Have you seen this, heard this, thought this? (Though if you thought it, it’s probably because the sentiment seeped into your subconscious, not because you are some magnificent Voltaire).

Frida Kahlo, right? The quote is usually—basically always—attributed to the Mexican painter.

The truth is, the line came from a poem written by author Marty McConnell where she personified Kahlo, according to an interview on CBC. The quote is virtually huge and McConnell now takes steps toward correcting the issue, specifically when people are selling merchandise with her work on it.

Graphic by Charlotte Bracho.

Graphic by Charlotte Bracho.

  1.  “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Writer: Lydia Anderson (Co-arts editor)

Its sentiment is undeniably positive and inspiring, but is it actually what Mahatma Gandhi said? Negative. According to The New York Times, Gandhi’s actual words were, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him … We need not wait to see what others do.” So technically the famous phrase is just a simplified paraphrasing of a more complex thought, but it’s still a false attribution. Before you volunteer abroad for one summer and whip that quote out to all of your Facebook friends, try to remember that just because it’s set in pretty typography online doesn’t mean it’s an accurate quotation.


  1. “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Writer: Brianna Ballard (Contributor)

Who hasn’t seen this quote on at least one social media platform, usually pasted onto a vintage black-and-white photo of Marilyn Monroe in fancy italics? It may be hard to believe, but the ‘50s actress never actually said that. This quote has been misattributed to several iconic women over the years, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Anne Boleyn. But who really said it? Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a student at the University of New Hampshire and a Pulitzer Prize recipient, first used this phrase in 1976 in an academic paper on women’s accomplishments that had been overlooked in history.


  1. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Writer: Paul J. Traunero (Contributor)

This famous line about freedom of speech is famously misattributed to Voltaire, but it was in fact written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall (under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre) in The Friends of Voltaire, a biography of sorts on the life of Voltaire. Though the quotation itself never appears in any of the French philosopher’s work, the line does manage to articulate the essence of Voltaire’s views on the subject in a condensed and simplified manner.


  1. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Writer: Elijah Bukreev (Co-arts editor)

Really? Einstein never said that? Or was it Benjamin Franklin? I’m never falling for an inspirational quote again. Seriously, if you can’t trust motivational posters and Internet memes, who can you trust? It’s not clear where the quote even comes from. There is no mention of it anytime before 1980, and no evidence that anyone famous ever said it. It was attributed to Jane Fulton in Rita Mae Brown’s 1983 novel Sudden Death, but that’s about it. Internet, I thought your job was to make our lives easier, not mislead and confuse us!

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