Famous Quotes From History We Got Wrong

July 3, 2024 | Sarah Ng

Famous Quotes From History We Got Wrong

Getting It Wrong

From iconic movie lines to philosophical words of wisdom, these are all the quotes from history we've gotten wrong.


"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy."

Following the death of Osama bin Laden, this quote began circulating in earnest. However, it was misattributed to Martin Luther King Jr. In truth, the quote had been posted on Facebook by a 24-year-old English teacher. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.bswise, Flickr

"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Many believe this is a quote made by Gandhi when, in truth, he said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”

Mahatma GandhiWikimedia Commons, Picryl

"The ends justify the means."

Machiavelli never uttered these words. Instead, he said, "One must consider the final result."

Portrait of Niccolò MachiavelliSanti di Tito, Wikimedia Commons

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."

Though many have credited Nelson Mandela for this quote, it actually came from the 1992 book A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles" by Marianne Williamson.

Marianne WilliamsonMatt Johnson, Flickr

"Money is the root of all evil."

This quote is close, but not quite correct. In the Bible, the line reads, "The love of money is the root of all evil."

Holy BibleSteve Snodgrass, Flickr

"The lion shall lay down with the lamb."

This is another Bible verse that is often misquoted. Isaiah 11:6 reads, "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together."

pocket bibleMike Johnson, Flickr

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

This quote by the astronaut Neil Armstrong is missing one small thing. He actually said, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Armstrong later shared, “The 'a' was intended. I thought I said it. I can’t hear it when I listen on the radio reception here on Earth, so I’ll be happy if you just put it in parentheses.”

Portrait of Astronaut Neil A. ArmstrongNASA, Picryl

"Let them eat cake!"

This famous quote has been misattributed to Marie Antoinette throughout history, but she never actually said it.

Marie-AntoinetteYann Caradec, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

"Walk softly, but carry a big stick."

Teddy Roosevelt didn't say this, but he did say, "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

Theodore socolorization, CC BY-SA 4.0 , Wikimedia Commons

"Houston, we have a problem."

American astronaut Jim Lovell didn't actually say this quote while on the Apollo 13 missionHowever, Tom Hanks, who plays Lovell in the 1995 film Apollo 13, was the one who actually said it.

Sully Japan Premiere Red Carpet: Tom HanksDick Thomas Johnson, Flickr

"Do you feel lucky, punk?"

Though many think this quote is directly from 1971's Dirty Harry, starring Clint Eastwood, the real quote is much longer: "You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do you, punk?"

Clint Eastwood at the World premiere of 'The Mule'Tinseltown, Shutterstock

"Mirror, mirror on the wall..."

Most people misremember this line from Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The Queen's actual words were, "Magic mirror on the wall..."

Snow White DisneyWalt Disney, Wikimedia Commons

"He's alive."

In the 1931 film adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Dr. Henry Frankenstein's real quote was, "It's alive!" But that isn't the only thing people have mixed up when it comes to the classic story. 

For one, Frankenstein's assistant was named Fritz, not Igor. And, most importantly, Frankenstein is not the monster—he is the doctor.

FRANKENSTEIN - Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Manmonstersforsale, Flickr

"[I] did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels."

Many have given Ginger Rogers credit for this quote, but even she debunked this claim. In her autobiography, the actress admitted that a newspaper comic was the true source.

Ginger RogersJohn Irving, Flickr

"I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."

When Dorothy and her dog Toto get transported to the magical land of Oz, her real quote is actually, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

The Wizard of OzInsomnia Cured Here, Flickr

"Life is like a box of chocolates."

When it comes to famous movie quotes, this line from Forrest Gump has been misquoted time and time again. Tom Hanks's character actually says, "Life was like a box of chocolates."

Tom HanksDick Thomas Johnson, CC BY 2.0 , Wikimedia Commons

"Beam me up, Scotty."

Sorry to disappoint Star Trek fans, but Captain Kirk never uttered this popular quote. 

1966 Star Trek 'Charlie X'James Vaughan, Flickr

"Bubble, bubble toil and trouble."

Shakespeare might be rolling in his grave to know just how badly he's been misquoted over the years. In Macbeth, the correct line is, "Double, double toil and trouble."

William shakespeare portraitBatyrAshirbayev98, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

"Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well."

Somehow, the beginning of Hamlet's iconic monologue has been regularly confused. If anyone needs a reminder, it goes, "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is!"

Hamlet and his MotherRegan Vercruysse, Flickr

"Methinks the lady doth protest too much."

This line from Hamlet is said by Queen Gertrude, but, "Methinks the lady doth protest too much," isn't quite correct. In the text, "methinks" doesn't start the quote, but rather, ends it.

Shakespeares Tragedy Of Hamlet Prince Of DenmarkHarold B. Lee Library, Picryl

"All that glitters is not gold."

"All that glitters is not gold" is a popular quote from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. However, the actual quote is, "All that glisters is not gold."

A antique William Shakespeare book Ana Hollan, Shutterstock

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."

This frequently quoted line is a butchered version of something William Congreve wrote: "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."

William CongreveNational Portrait Gallery London, Picryl

"Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious."

This popular quote is a simplified version of what Freud originally wrote in The Interpretation of Dreams: "The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind."

Sigmund FreudMax Halberstadt, Wikimedia Commons

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

This is considered a quote by Freud, but there is no evidence to suggest he ever said or wrote this.

Sigmund Freud,Tullio Saba, Flickr

"I cannot tell a lie."

This quote is attributed to George Washington, but it was actually manufactured by one of his biographers in the 19th century.

Young George Washington_BuBBy_, Flickr

"If you can't handle me at my worst, you don't deserve me at my best."

Thanks to Pinterest and Tumblr, this quote began circulating. However, it was mistakenly attributed to Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroemfrissen, Flickr

"Well-behaved women rarely make history."

This quote has certainly been around the block. People have claimed its source to be Marilyn Monroe, Eleanor Roosevelt, and even Anne Boleyn. However, the credit should have gone to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a student destined to become a Harvard professor.

Marilyn Monroe in the night skyChoo Yut Shing, Flickr

"Luke, I am your father."

This line from Star Wars has been misquoted so often, it's often listed as an example of the Mandela Effect. The actual quote is, "No, I am your father."

image of Han SoloTwentieth Century, Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

"Hello, Clarice."

This is another movie quote that baffles people when you tell them it was never a line in The Silence of the Lambs.

image of The Silence of the LambsOrion Pictures, The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

"The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy, and the lash."

Even Winston Churchill wished he could take credit for this quote. However, it was actually said by Anthony Montague-Brown, Churchill's assistant.

Dwight eisenhower, anthony montague-browne, winston churchillUniversal History Archive, Getty Images

"Blood, sweat, and tears."

Now, Winston Churchill said something close to this popular quote, but not quite: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat."

Winston Spencer ChurchillDonald Sheridan, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

"The British are coming!"

This quote is misattributed to Paul Revere, but in truth, comes from the poem "Paul Revere's Ride," written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Henry Wadsworth LongfellowInternet Archive Book Images, Flickr

"The only two certainties in life are death and taxes."

Though many credit Mark Twain or Benjamen Franklin for this quote, the likeliest source is a line from one of Christopher Bullock's plays: “You lye, you are not sure; for I say, Woman, ’tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes.”

Benjamin FranklinJoseph-Siffred Duplessis, Wikimedia Commons

"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."

This is yet another line that Mark Twain did not say. Instead, it's a simplified version of a quote made by Clarence Darrow.

Darrow Clarence AttorneyLibrary of Congress, Picryl

"Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

When false rumors of Mark Twain's death began circulating, the writer responded in the New York Journal. His correct quote was, "The report of my death was an exaggeration."

Mark TwainStuart Rankin, Flickr

"Don't fire 'til you see the whites of their eyes."

Andrew Jackson has been mistakenly credited for this quote, when it was actually a soldier named Israel Putnam who uttered it.

Israel putnam portraitFabronius, Wikimedia Commons

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

This quote wasn't said by Confucius but rather by Lao Tzu. And the correct version? “A journey of 400 miles begins beneath one’s feet."

tatue of Lao TzuTom@HK, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

This one is often misquoted, but the original line by Alexander Pope was worded a bit differently: "A little learning is a dangerous thing."

Catholic Church PopeMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston, online database, Picryl

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined."

Henry David Thoreau's actual quote wasn't so brief: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours … In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness."

Henry David ThoreauWikimedia Commons, Picryl

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