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11 Famous Quotes That Were Attributed to the Wrong Person

Famous people sure do say a lot of very wise words that should be passed on to as many people as possible. But the thing is that many of the quotes we’re so used to associate with a specific celebrity may not have been said by them at all! In fact, such misattributions happen all the time. Here are 11 surprising quotations that were completely miscredited.

1. "Standing on the shoulders of giants" (not Isaac Newton)

We can say with confidence that this is one of the most well-known quotations by Sir Isaac Newton. And in fact, he wrote those exact words in a letter to Robert Hooke, an English mathematician and philosopher.

misattributed quotes isaac newton

The catch is that Newton wasn’t the author of the phrase, it was a reference to the famous words said by a philosopher named Bernard of Chartres in the 12th century.

Bernard wrote the following: "We are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants, and thus we are able to see more and farther than the latter." Thus, the famous quote didn’t belong to Newton, but it is still a very very clever idea, so much so, that even the father of physics himself could appreciate it.

2. "Let them eat cake." (not Marie Antoinette)

When someone says something out of place in their kitchen, it's just an embarrassing moment that everyone will soon forget. If, however, a famous person says something out of place in public, it may cause such drama that a slip of the tongue may go down in history.
misattributed quotes marie antoinette

This was the case with the famous quote by a French queen that, when confronted with the fact that the poor are out of bread, simply blurted out “let them eat cake.” The situation was immortalized in the book “Confessions” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but the author referred to the monarch as “great princess” instead of calling her by name.

Eventually, the phrase was wrongly attributed to Marie Antoinette, despite the fact that she was only 12 years old when Rousseau wrote the book and wasn’t part of the French royal court until she married King Louis XVI in 1770.

3. "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." (not Voltaire)

This quotation is much closer to the truth than the previous one because at least it reflects Voltaire’s revolutionary political views. The truth is, however, that Voltaire never actually wrote these words.
misattributed quotes voltaire
It was Evelyn Beatrice Hall, a writer commissioned to create the biography of the famous French philosopher that wrote the following about Voltaire: "'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,' was his attitude now."
She was simply imagining how Voltaire felt about a specific topic. Apparently, her intuition described the French philosopher’s views so well that all the readers simply assumed it was a real quote.

4. "If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain." (not Winston Churchill)

misattributed quotes Winston Churchill
Churchill never said the above-mentioned quote. In fact, the Churchill Centre and Museum in London confirm the misattribution and add that the great British prime minister would have never said such a disrespectful thing in public, especially since his dear wife Clementine was a lifelong liberal herself.
The true originator of the phrase was Francois Guizot, a French historian and politician who coined the phrase in the early 19th century.

5. "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."(not Dr. Seuss)

misattributed quotes dr.Seuss
Dr.Seuss never said this quote in public and had nothing to do with its creation. This particular quote was actually first recorded in 1938 in a London journal for municipal and county engineers, decades before the doctor became famous.
The clever engineer who coined the phrase was a certain Mr. Davies, who replied in those words to the people who criticized his architectural designs.

6. "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure." (not Nelson Mandela)

The positive message in these words may be meaningful and inspiring, but it wasn’t part of the South African president's 1994 inaugural address like the Internet may lead you to believe. These words actually belong to self-help guru Marianne Williamson.
misattributed quotes nelson mandela

She wrote them in a 1989 book "A Return To Love", a spiritual guide.

The quote goes on, “It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world ... As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”. Nicely put, not-Nelson.

7. "Well-behaved women rarely make history." (not Marilyn Monroe)

Several people assumed that this quote belongs to the famous actress, but in reality, there is no indication to believe so. Don’t despair, as the real author of the saying is also a very clever woman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
misattributed quotes marilyn monroe

She is a celebrated historian, who actually called her 2007 book about colonial woman history "Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History." It was not the first time Ulrich used this phrase either.

In 1976, she wrote the same words, though in a more matter-of-fact and less symbolic meaning, for an issue of the academic journal "American Quarterly".

8. "If you have to ask how much they are, you can't afford one." (not J.P. Morgan)

We can easily imagine the famous banker saying these words. In fact, this is the only quote is kind of right, but not really. The famous banker’s biographer Jean Strouse found a recording of Morgan's answer to Henry Clay Pierce's question about the price of Morgan’s yacht.
misattributed quotes j.p.morgan
It goes as follows, "You have no right to own a yacht if you ask that question."
A vague similarity can be found between the 2 quotes, but Strouse strongly believes that the famous banker never said the former quote, nor was it in his style of language, claimed the biographer.

9. "The ends justify the means." (not Niccolò Machiavelli)

misattributed quotes Niccolò Machiavelli

These words are popularly misdated by about 14 centuries, as the Italian philosopher and politician didn’t write them. Instead, the quote comes from the times of antiquity.

In the classic poem by Roman poet Ovid, "Heroides II" one can easily find these words: "Exitus acta probat". This translates to "the outcome justifies the means." One can hardly blame the public for misattributing this quote to the Italian political philosopher, as his support for the tyranny of the royalty

10. "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." (not Albert Einstein)

You can find different versions of these words, but we owe none of these versions to the famous physicist. American journalist Michael Becker traced the origins of this quote back to a mystery novelist named Rita Mae Brown.

misattributed quotes alber einstein

In her novel "Sudden Death", she mentions that the quote belonged to Jane Fulton, a character she herself made up. In the novel she wrote, "Unfortunately, Susan didn't remember what Jane Fulton once said. 'Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.'"

We must say that we’re even kind of relieved to find out that Einstein didn’t coin this saying, as it clearly violates the probabilistic laws of physics.

11. "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." (not Mark Twain, or Jack Benny, or Muhammad Ali)

This last one is a funny one because the truth is that no one knows who wrote it to this day, and so it gets attributed to a new person every time. In 1970, a South Carolina newspaper stated that Twain was the author, but they made it up.

And though Jack Benny and Muhammad Ali both said these words much later, the earliest mention in history belongs to an anonymous governmental researcher. The unknown person wrote in 1968, "Aging is a matter of mind. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

With time and after being repeated over and over, the "mind over matter" part got added to the quote, so one can even say that the wise words were a communal effort. In the end, does it really matter who said it? It’s still a very clever saying that everyone should know. 

misattributed quotes mark twain Jack Benny Muhammad Ali
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