Behind every (great/successful) quotation is a mis-attribution

A Facebook friend shared the following:

Winston Churchill loved paraprosdokians, figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected.

1. Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.
2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you, but it’s still on my list.
3. Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
4. If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.
5. War does not determine who is right – only who is left.
6. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
7. They begin the evening news with ‘Good Evening,’ then proceed to tell you why it isn’t.
8. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
9. I thought I wanted a career. Turns out, I just wanted pay checks.
10. In filling out an application, where it says, ‘In case of emergency, notify:’ I put “DOCTOR.”
11. I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.
12. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street…with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.
13. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.
14. A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.
15. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.
16. Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.
17. There’s a fine line between cuddling and…holding someone down so they can’t get away.
18. I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not so sure.
19. You’re never too old to learn something stupid.
20. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.
21. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.
22. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
23. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
24. I’m supposed to respect my elders, but now it’s getting harder and harder for me to find one.

I commented “I wonder how many of these he actually said or wrote. My first guess is ‘not many’.” He replied “does it matter?”. I replied “Yes. Attribution of quotation is a matter of historical fact. Mis-attributing a quotation robs the real originator of a chance to shine.” I spent some time this evening preliminarily investigating each (which I’ll get back to in a moment). Meanwhile, he replied to the effect that the intro does not state that Churchill actually originated or even used them. All it says is that he loved these figures of speech, which is undoubtedly true. But then, so do most people, so why bring Churchill into it at all?

I found four of these (3, 5, 8 and 21) on the Quote Investigator site, which I trust, because they cite their sources meticulously. (Sometimes, an idea is stated in different ways before someone creates the most-quoted form of it, so it’s hard to say who should get the credit.) I found seven eight more (5, 6, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22 and 23) attributed to other, mostly less famous people on quotation sites which don’t cite sources. One quotation is attributed to two different people on two different sites. I’m not going to attribute any without being sure. Maybe non-attribution is as bad as mis-attribution.

Quote Investigator cites Nigel Rees as coining the expression “Churchillian drift”, the process by which quotations are attributed to either George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde, Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain (my note: all dead, white males). Interestingly, none of the quotations on that list is definitely by Churchill.

Especially now in the days of instant communication, we can adopt and adapt almost anything with a click or a tap. With great power comes great responsibility. (Hmmm … who said that?)


3 thoughts on “Behind every (great/successful) quotation is a mis-attribution

  1. Not all of the quotations on that list are even paraprosdokians, strictly speaking. Interestingly, the Wikipedia page for “paraprosdokian” lists an example attributed to Churchill that’s not in the above list:

    “There but for the grace of God—goes God.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Who said what? | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

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