Say What? 5 Common Misquotes

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People love using quotes for two basic reasons: 1. It is easier to quote someone else than to think of your own words. 2. Quoting someone else, especially someone well known and well regarded, brings a sense of gravitas and conviction to your own assertions. Quotations are convenient touchstones that allow us to make our points by association and without mounting full, logical arguments; yet another reason people — especially politicians — love using them. There is no better way to sabotage your own attempt at persuasive rhetoric, though, than to misquote. Let there be no mistake about that – “read my mouth!”

5 Let’s Chop This Myth Down to Size

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Listen, kids: There was no cherry tree. The famous story of Young Georgie Washington chopping down his family’s tree and then admitting to it is an allegory created in the mid-1800s. As there was no actual tree, GW didn’t chop anything down – and therefore never lied about cutting it down. Which is great – his image is preserved!

4 Well, He Was Out of This World at the Time

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Astronaut Neil Armstrong spoke the most famous phrase ever uttered by someone not currently on planet earth as he stepped down on the lunar surface: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The thing is, Armstrong said “a man,” not simply “man.” His radio signal was briefly garbled, leaving the world with an iconic yet grammatically garbled quote.

3 Partial Credit, Mr. Prime Minister

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Of all the wonderful quotes we have from Winston Churchill, perhaps the best is not something he actually said, but a line he later admitted he wished were his own and not that of his assistant, Anthony Montague-Brown: “The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash.”

2 A Harsh Quote, A Harsh Man

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Josef Stalin is remembered for many things, among them his mustache, his Soviet leadership during WWII and for the gulags in which millions died. He is also commonly thought of as one of the cruelest men in history. A quote such as this: “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic,” would seem to support that claim. But you’ll have to use the ruthless executions of countless perceived political enemies, the forced deportation of entire ethnic groups and the wanton disregard for human dignity as evidence of Stalin’s character, because neither he nor anyone else ever said those exact words – though writer Kurt Tucholsky said something similar in a satirical essay written in the early 20th century.

1 A Stupid Quote … But She Didn’t Actually Say It

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Taking shots at Sarah Palin’s linguistic foibles is like shooting fish in a barrel, an activity we assume she has tried. So we thought we would cut her a break and tell you that former Governor-For-a-Little-While Palin never said: “I can see Russia from my house.” That was from “Saturday Night Live.” Palin did, however, allude to the proximity of Russia to Alaska, which of course has no bearing whatsoever on one’s skill or experience in matters of diplomacy or governance, so even pointing that out was still pretty damn stupid.

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