The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes in History

If there is just one thing we should take away from the 2012 US Presidential election, it is that sometimes you don’t need to say something stupid in order for it to be immortalized in your name. For example, we’re pretty sure you heard this line tossed around quite a bit these last few months:

The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

The moment Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election.

Yes, it was stupid as hell for Mitt Romney to write that op-ed in hindsight, but there is one minor problem with the above quote: Romney never actually said “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” The New York Times simply used that line as their title for the op-ed since, you know, it was pretty much what Romney was trying to sell at the time.

Well, it turns out Mitt Romney is not alone. History is bloated with famous quotations that famous people who never gave them. For example…

6. “God helps those who help themselves.”

Who [supposedly] said it: It sounds biblical, so we’re guessing someone in the Bible.

The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

Please note the lack of a particular passage.

The actual quote: Nothing. While the above passage enjoys a rich history stretching all the way back to Ancient Greece, neither the quote nor its variants appear anywhere in the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, or pretty much anywhere God usually posts to get a message across.

The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

Including the Internet.

The result: Unfortunately, the above quote gets more traffic than whole books of the Bible, and is frequently used to misled flocks into thinking the chief message of Christianity is “fuck the poor!” While the Bible is loaded with crazy shit like rape and murder and incest, supply-side economics is not one of them. On the contrary, Jesus is frequently portrayed giving out free health care and foodstuffs, which sort of makes him into more of a hippie than anything remotely resembling Pat Robertson or Rick Santorum.

The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

We’re guessing this is how God spends most of his Sundays.

5. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Who [supposedly] said it: Neil Armstrong during his famous moonwalk. (Also, Buzz Aldrin was there.)

The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

It was a triumphant moment in MTV history.

The actual quote: When the Apollo 11 crew returned to their cheering planet, Neil Armstrong was disappointed to learn that the whole world misquoted his famous line. The actual quote, he corrected, was supposed to begin “That’s one small step for a man.” However, as if the whole experience was an episode of The Twilight Zone, Neil found that every single newspaper he could get his hands on had line wrong, be it due to an audio error or good old fashioned nerves on his part.

The result: According to Andrew Smith’s book Moondust, it seems that many of NASA’s Apollo astronauts returned home to find their lives on Earth empty, boring, and basically non-lunar. For Neil, this must have come at a particularly hard price since he not only got to be the first person to walk on the moon, but he had to spend the rest of his life accepting honors and plaques with the single most famous thing he ever said in his life misquoted. Still, there are worse legacies.

The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

At least he’s not Nixon.

4. “Luke, I am your father.”

Who [supposedly] said it: Darth Vader in what is perhaps the single most epic moment of the entire Star Wars series. Han Solo is frozen, Luke Skywalker just had his hand cut off, and Darth Vader has a terrible secret to reveal…

The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

“I built C-3PO.”

The actual quote: Despite being perhaps the single most quoted line in the movie, nobody says it. Here is the actual dialogue from the film right after Vader cuts Luke’s hand off:

Darth Vader: There is no escape! Don’t make me destroy you. Luke, you do not yet realize your importance. You’ve only begun to discover your power! Join me, and I will complete your training! With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict, and bring order to the galaxy.

Luke Skywalker[angrily] I’ll never join you!

Vader: If only you knew the power of the Dark Side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.

Skywalker: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!

Vader: No, I am your father.

Skywalker[shocked] No. No! That’s not true! That’s impossible!

Vader: Search your feelings, you know it to be true!


The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

It gets pretty ugly after that.

The result: It’s hard to hold it against anyone for getting this line wrong. After all, it really does compartmentalize the whole movie into one easy-to-use quote that can be fashioned even more easily into a zinger.

The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

“I fucked your mother.”

As such, while inaccurate, this line could be considered perhaps the single most successful work of Star Wars fan-fiction outside of Robot Chicken.


The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

This segment still takes the cake.

3. “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

Who [supposedly] said it: Sherlock Holmes, we’re guessing in one of his many adventures by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. After all, it would be pretty crappy for Holmes to have said it any other way.

The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

Very, very, very crappy.

The actual quote: Nothing. The line does not appear once in any of the sixty Sherlock Holmes stories authored by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In the books, Holmes does refer to his lovable droog as “my dear Watson” and occasioanlly punctuate his deductions with “elementary,” but the closest thing we have to him using both in succession is this snippet from “The Adventure of the Crooked Man.”

‘Excellent!’ I cried.

‘Elementary,’ said he.

I.e., he never said it. The line that most people attribute to Holmes is actually from the 1929 film The Return of Sherlock Holmes, where our title character famously says “Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary.” Naturally, we can only imagine that it sounded pretty badass at the time.

The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

Had Holmes been wearing sunglasses, it would have probably burned down the theater.

The result: Make no mistake; the latter line is quite famous. It has been duplicated countless times and even appeared on the AFI’s list of the top 100 greatest movie quotes in American cinema. Just note that we had to say “American” cinema when we said that. For your more hardcore Holmes fan, there is no substitute for the original.

The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

Hear, hear!

2. “Let them eat cake.”

Who [supposedly] said it: Marie Antoinette, allegedly after being told that French peasants had no bread and were starving to death. It was a bit of a dick move; the kind of thing up there with Barbara Bush saying Hurricane Katrina survivors were better off as refugees in Texas because so many of the survivors “were underprivileged anyway.”

The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

It was the eighteenth-century equivalent to this.

The actual quote: The line first surfaced in Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who wrote that Marie Antoinette allegedly said: “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche [Let them eat brioche].” Not only is this the original quote, but it looks like Marie Antoinette never said this either. Jean-Jacques Rousseau likely invented the episode to make his life’s story sound more entertaining. In fact, there is reason to be that Rousseau ripped off this anecdote from the Chinese.

The result: We wish we could say this little mishap resulted in Marie’s death by guillotine, but the truth is that this zinger didn’t do much for her reputation until it showed up in a children’s book in the 1930s. Of course, at that point she had been all-dead for nearly 150 years, and was thus an easy target for defamation when she was actually sympathetic to the plight of her peasants.

That asinine quote from Barbara Bush, however, that actually happened.

The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

If you ever wondered what George W. Bush would look like in drag, well, there’s your answer.

1. “The ends justify the means.”

Who [supposedly] said it: Niccolò Machiavelli in his legendary text The Prince. The line is supposed to be a bit of an all-sorts to get what you want and do what you gotta do, no matter how brutal your methods.

The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

How the music industry is able to face itself every morning.

The actual quote: We got to break out our Italian for this one. In chapter 18 of the original text, Machiavelli writes “si guarda al fine.” This translates into “we must consider the end result,” which sort of means the exact opposite of what we’d expect. Instead of this serving as a Get Out of Jail Free card for assholes, it functions no differently than if Machiavelli wrote “one must be prudent,” “consider the consequence of your actions,” or some other fortune cookie.


Honestly, this covers half of The Prince.

The result: Sure enough, Machiavelli doesn’t enjoy a good reputation these days. His name is synonymous with knavery and graft, completely overwriting his true history as a poet, a revolutionary, a proponent of representative rule and, most recently, as an Assassin.

The 6 Most Irritating Misquotes In History

We’d follow anyone who could forge an alliance with nun-prostitute warriors.


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