The Most Intelligent Thing I Didn’t Say

by Curt Kovener

In the newspaper business, I occasionally hear, “ I was misquoted. I didn’t say that.” Frequently it comes after someone says something foolish or without sufficient thought, his/her words appear in print, and not wanting to fess up, claims the newspaper got it wrong.
It’s not an affliction unique to newspaper people. I suppose we all mishear, misunderstand and many miss the point entirely from time to time.
So for all you folks who have accurate hearing and photo recall, here’s a quiz of some all-too-familiar sounding quotes, and (before reading each following paragraph) you decide if it is correctly quoted.
•“Money is the root of all evil.”
Misquote. In I Timothy we are told “The love of money is the root of all evil.”
•“Pride goeth before a fall.”
Misquote. The book of Proverbs advises us that “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
•“Familiarity breeds contempt.”
Misquote. “Familiarity begets boldness,” according to Shackerley Marmion, who said it first.
•“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”
Misquote. Correctly quoted it is “A little learning is a dangerous thing.”
•“Alas! poor Yorick. I knew him well.”
Misquote. It was Shakespeare’s Hamlet who said at his friend’s graveside, “Alas! poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio.”
•“Home is the hunter.”
Misquote. Robert Louis Stevenson originally said, “Home is the sailor, home from the sea, And the hunter home from the hill.”
•“To gild the lily.”
Misquote. From Shakespeare’s King John speaking about attempting to improve perfection he said, “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily.”
•“Say it ain’t so, Joe!”
Misquote. “It ain’t true, is it, Joe?” said by a young baseball fan to ‘Shoeless Joe’ Jackson, implicated in the Black Sox Scandal.
•“All that glitters is not gold.”
Misquote. “Nor all that glistens, gold.” wrote Thomas Gray.
You see how easy it is to foul up what someone else has said? Take a phrase that trickles smoothly off the tongue, mold, it shape it to your liking or purpose and say it long enough, you too, can misquote.
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“A painting in a museum probably hears more foolish remarks than anything else in the world.”
–Edmond Goncourt