Saturday 24 April 2010

Quotes and Misquotes

Play it, Sam!

Never mind that nobody ever said "Play it again, Sam", "Come up and see me some time", or "When I hear the word culture I reach for my gun" – sometimes misquotes are snappier than the original. But some quotes are oft-quoted with the wrong meaning, or misquoted, or misattributed. Or oft-quoted to support a point of view they actually demolish.

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics. Said Winston Churchill? When Mark Twain mentioned this pithy saying in his autobiography, he credited it to Benjamin Disraeli.

Honesty is the best policy.
Policy used to mean something like diplomacy, so this means "honesty is the best kind of deviousness".

Every sperm is sacred.
From an amusing comedy skit by those zany jokesters, Monty Python, not promulgated by the Pope.

Thou shalt not kill, but need'st not strive/ Officiously to keep alive.
These lines by Arthur Hugh Clough are often quoted to support the view that abortion, embryo research and euthanasia are acceptable. They are from his poem The Latest Decalogue which is a satire of the ten commandments. Other commandments in his list: "Thou shalt have one God only - who/ would be at the expense of two?/ Adultery do not commit -/ Advantage rarely comes of it." You get the idea?

Religion is the opium of the people.
Marx is often dismissed for being anti-religious. After all, didn’t he say "Religion is the opium of the people"? He did, but in context it means something more like "Religion is the Prozac of the people, and if you don’t want people to take Prozac you should make sure they don’t need to."

Here's what he actually said: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions."

The bells! The bells!
Catchphrase of Charles Laughton as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Declaimed by Henry Irving in a famous melodrama in which he played a character called Matthias who was haunted by the sound of the sleighbells of the man he murdered.

Wherefore art thou, Romeo?
Means “Why are you ‘Romeo’?”, not “Where are you, Romeo?”

And here is some meaningless uplift...

We have nothing to fear but fear itself.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

We need'st must love the highest when we see it.

Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds ... With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do," said Ralph Waldo Emerson. But he was wrong.

Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?
Robert Browning But was he being ironic?

We know what Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein are doing in the afterlife – churning out pious platitudes for automatic spam tweets. Why not add these to the fortune cookie database?

If you touch one thing with deep awareness, you touch everything. Thich Nhat Hanh

Real freedom is about living with limitations. (Template: real x is [the opposite of X].)

Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. Soren Kierkegaard

Only a life lived for others is a life worth living. Albert Einstein (allegedly)

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. Mahatma Gandhi

You have to meet life on life’s terms. (Geri Halliwell)

More here.

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