Boller, Paul F. and George, John. They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes and
Misleading Attributions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
This is a book which describes the art of quotesmanship, the use and abuse of quotations for
partisan purposes. In this sense, quotes are used "to score points." (vii) Quotesmen are gamesmen
who use quotes as labels. If the quotesman can stick a figure with a misquote or even a foolish
remark, they can make something out of it.
"When Emperor Charlemagne died in 814 and no comet appeared, chroniclers simply invented
one and inserted it into history, for comets in those days were closely associated with the death of
great leaders. Twentieth-century quotemongers are like the ninth-century comet-makers; they
dress up things which never happened but which they think should have and insert them into
history." (Pp. ix-x)
Most of the quotes here are of the political sort and the characters studied, politicians. However,
On July 20, 1969, at 10:56 (E.D.T.), astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lunar module
that had carried him through thousands of miles of space to become the first human being to set
foot on the moon. His statement upon that historic occasion was transmitted to earth and heard
around the world. But then he got back to earth he discovered he had been misunderstood.
"That's one small step for a man," he had announced, "one giant leap for mankind." But because
of static, the particle, "a" had been left out of his statement, thus ruining the contrast he had made
between one man ("a" man) and all mankind "man"). Newspapers and the wire services soon
reported Armstrong's correction, but the faulty version continues to circulate. (p. 4-5)
In 1985, Jimmy Swaggart announced that Darwin had recanted his materialism and asked for the
Bible on his deathbed. Swiggart got the tale from an early source, a widow of Admiral of the
Fleet Sir James Hope who insisted she'd been at Downe on 19 April 1882. But Darwin's kids
deny the woman was there and they also report the usual quote, "I am not the least afraid to die."
Galileo's famous, "Eppur si muove" is here and the authors have this to say:
There is no evidence that Galileo stubbornly whispered these defiant words after being forced by
the Inquisition in 1633 to abjure his belief that the earth revolved around the sun. It was a French
writer, writing more than a century after Galileo's death, who first put the words in the great
scientist's mouth. But they surely represented Galileo's firm belief. (Abbe Irailh. But there are
other references too, Rosenblum, "They Never Said It," American Mercury, 494 and it's
Bartlett's which attributes it to the Frenchman.)
There are others which are personally interesting to me. I recall during WWII singing the
enormously popular "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." Turns out that the slogan was
an old one which had been used in the American Civil War even though the Frank Loesser music
was from WWII.
Newton's "On the shoulders of giants" is mentioned and reference is given to Merton's book on
Washington's "I cannot tell a lie" is traced:
The assertion that when the Father of Our Country was a little boy he told his dad he couldn't tell
a lie is itself a prevarication. It's an innocent one all the same. It was put into circulation by an
Anglican minister, Mason Locke ("Parson") Weems, a writer with a bent for hagiography, who
wrote a biography of Washington shortly after the latter's death in 1799. When George was about
six years old, Weems tells us, his father gave him a hatchet, and the boy at once hacked up a
handsome young cherry tree belonging to the family. "George," said the father sternly,
confronting the boy, "do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder and George
staggered under it for a moment." Recovering himself, though, he bravely cried out: "I can't tell a
lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with a hatchet." The Great Confrontation Scene
ends with the Great Embrace. "Run to my arms, you dearest boy," cries Washington's father, in
transport, "run to my arms; glad am I, George that you killed my tree, for you have paid me for it
a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my sone, is worth more than a thousand trees, though
blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest fold."
A readable example of the nonsense that gets into "history."