15 Quotes You’re Probably Misusing
Taken out of context, famous quotes can quickly end up the way a phrase does in a game of telephone — completely askew. Here are 15 famous quotes you’re probably misusing.
“To thine own self be true”
This quote comes to us from Hamlet but not actually from the character Hamlet. Hamlet the protagonist certainly has some lines full of great life advice, but this quote comes from Polonius, who was a hypocrite. However you interpret the quote, just know it comes from a character who you’re not supposed to trust.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world”
Many believe this quote comes from Gandhi — it is sort of did — but it’s a highly altered and shortened version of something he said. What Gandhi really said was, “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.” The latter quote preaches many of the same ideas, but it focuses more on a person’s individual experience of life, rather than how he or she affects life around him or her.
“Luke, I am your father”
You might not use this quote to bestow wisdom on any given situation, but it is a famous movie line often misquoted. The real line is actually, “No, I am your father.”
“I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”
Many attribute this quote to the philosopher Voltaire but in fact these words come from Evelyn Beatrice Hall who wrote a biography of Voltaire. The quote was meant to illustrate Voltaire’s beliefs, so in an indirect way, it is a quote of his.
“Beauty is truth, truth is beauty”
This quote comes from John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” however there is a key detail about the quote people often miss. The quote is from the urn. The words are not uttered by John Keats but rather Keats is relaying them to the reader from the inscription on an urn. Keats’ ode actually in many ways criticizes the urn for hiding many of the harsh realities of life.
“Nice guys finish last”
You might use this as a way to explain why your nice friend can’t find a girlfriend or can’t get the promotion, but this is an edited version of another quote with an entirely different meaning. Baseball player Leo Durocher once said this regarding a team he was playing: “All nice guys…they’ll finish last.”
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em”
This quote comes to us from William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and even though it rings true, the character who said it was in fact teasing somebody. An ever-joking bard in the story writes this in a letter to a very egotistical character, mocking the ideas he imagines the latter character already has.
“Money is the root of all evil”
This quote comes from “The Canterbury Tales” which, while a highly quotable piece of literature itself, actually took this quote from The King James Bible and removed some words. The original quote reads, “greed, or the love of money” is the root of evil.
“Let them eat cake”
Many believe the queen of France, Marie Antoinette, said this in response to poverty in her country during her reign. The quote actually comes from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Genevan writer who recalls a princess saying of her subjects, “Let them eat brioche.”
“The devil is in the details”
The source of this quote is unknown, however historians and researchers note that an earlier such quote existed that was worded, “God is in the details.” Many believe a humorist twisted the quote into, “The devil is in the details” and now we misuse it, often referring to situations in which something is ruined or goes wrong because of one little detail.
“Well-behaved women rarely make history”
Many attribute this quote to actress Marilyn Monroe but it actually comes from a historian and Harvard professor named Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. You may not be misusing this quote, but you could be giving the wrong person credit.
“Starve a cold; feed a fever” — or vice versa
You may have heard your mother say this when you were sick as a kid and took it as sound medical advice but the quote is missing a few words that make all the difference. It may originally date back to 1574, when writer John Withals suggested that fasting would cure a fever. Since then, it’s been twisted and now no one is certain what it was meant to be.
Many take this quote to mean you should do what you feel like today because you could die tomorrow. The full quote however is, “Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero” which means, “Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.” It actually has nothing to do with slacking off your duties to have fun but everything to do with taking control of your future today and doing the work you can, to try to make a good future for yourself.
“Curiosity killed the cat”
Good news for the curious out there. This quote stems from a 17th-century play by Ben Jonson that had the words, “Care’ll kill a cat.” Its original meaning is that worrying too much can kill you. The proverbial expression, “curiosity killed the cat” is much more recent, and is usually used when trying to stop someone from asking unwanted questions.
“Blood is thicker than water”
You may take this to mean that bonds between blood relatives are stronger than any other. However, the original quote means the opposite. It’s from an old proverb that goes, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” The quote meant that the blood a soldier sheds on the battlefield with other soldiers is thicker than his bond to his family.
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