Misquotes

3rd December 2014

Ever heard these famous quotes? You may be surprised to learn that all is not as it seems with them…

“Beam me up, Scotty” Star Trek

Widely attributed to Captain Kirk in Star Trek, in fact this line was never uttered! Kirk did say, however, “Beam us up, Mr Scott” in one episode.

“Elementary, my dear Watson” Sherlock Homes, Arthur Conan Doyle

The catchphrase of Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Actually, no. In fact, Conan Doyle never wrote this line in any of the books he published! It is another celebrated British writer, P.G. Wodehouse, who is credited with coining the phrase in a completely unrelated work of fiction. This quote was most probably made popular by various films wherein Sherlock does say this line. In some ways, then, the quote is rightly attributed to Sherlock, if not Conan Doyle, however, it is a line plagiarised from Wodehouse, and not part of the classical cannon of the books.

“Lead on Macduff” Macbeth, Shakespeare

Perhaps not as widely known as the previous two, nevertheless, it is a line often quoted incorrectly. In fact, the line is pretty similar so it is easy to see where the mistake was made. Macbeth actually says “Lay on, Macduff” (Act 5, Scene 8), and, rather than telling Macduff to lead the way, as is the context in which this quote is often used, he is asking Macduff to start the fight which they are about to have.

“Let them eat cake” Marie Antoinette

Whilst commonly attributed to Marie Antoinette, it is probable that she never said it. In his autobiography, Confessions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau quotes this line (in French) as being said by a “great princess”. The volume in which this quote was in written was completed before Marie even arrived in France by a couple of years at least! Louis XVIII also quoted this line in a memoir and attributed it to the wife of Louis XIV, Maria-Thérèse. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence which shows Marie was a very conscientious, intelligent woman who was unlikely to have said anything quite so obtuse.

“Luke, I am your father” Star Wars

This one is only slight wrong. The original line in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back was “No, I am your father”. The change to this quote was probably so that it made sense by itself as well as to make it instantly recognisable from the film (by replacing “no” with “Luke”).

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” Neil Armstrong

Poor audio meant that Armstrong was misheard – in fact he said: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. Such a slight change and yet it does make a difference in the clarity of the line. “Man” is a collective noun, just like “mankind”, whereas “a man” is more personal and relates specifically to him. With the addition of “a”, the line becomes a powerful juxtaposition between the physically small step that he made and the “giant leap” that mankind made through achieving a successful moon landing.

“Money is the root of all evil” The Bible

The quote from the bible actually says: “Love of money is the root of all evil” (Timothy 6:10). The change here is quite important in that the emphasis of the original saying is on the importance people place on money, while the altered saying implies that all money is evil, which seems to miss Timothy’s point entirely.

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