Author Archives: Barbara

Well known Mis-quotations

Popular misquotes – ‘the things they never said’.

Many phrases and sayings have entered the language as quotations by known authors. Some of these are accepted into the language with scant evidence linking the phrase and the person, and some are just plain misquotations. These false attributions, although generally quite easy to disprove as many of them as supposed to derive from films or works of fiction, join the popular fallacies as the most difficult to remove from the popular consciousness.

There are some untruths which people prefer to believe than to have refuted. It seems that, for a large enough percentage of the population to keep a phrase in circulation, the sense that a quote sounds appropriate for a particular author or fictional character is sufficient, regardless of whether they actually ever said it.

There are a startlingly large number of ‘quotations’ which, on investigation, turn out to be false. Some of these probably wouldn’t persist apart from their ‘misquote’ notoriety. Here are a few examples:


Attributed to:


Beam me up, Scotty.

Captain James T. Kirk, in the Star Trek series.

The closest that Captain Kirk ever got to this was “Beam us up, Mr Scott”, in the ‘Gamesters of Triskelion’ episode.

Come with me to the Casbah.

Charles Boyer, in the film Algiers, 1938.

The line doesn’t appear in the film, although it was present in some early trailers. Boyer did epitomize the suave, debonair French lover and became somewhat typecast in such roles. The ‘quotation’ came to the public consciousness via Chuck Jones’s cartoon skunk “Pépé le Pew” in a satire of Boyer’s performance. In later life, Boyer tired of the endless repetition of the phrase and attempted to disassociate himself from it.

Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.

Sigmund Freud, in ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’, 1909.

The line doesn’t appear in this book, or any of Freud’s works. It derives from others’ summaries of Freud’s theories.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

The Wicked Queen in Disney’s animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937.

The actual line is ” Magic Mirror on the Wall, who is the fairest one of all? “.

Elementary, Dear Watson

Sherlock Holmes

Holmes didn’t say ‘Elementary, Dear Watson’ in any published story. He came close in a couple of books, but never that exact phrase.


England and America are two countries divided by a common language.

George Bernard Shaw.

This supposed quotation doesn’t appear anywhere in the copious writing of GBS. A similar idea was expressed by Oscar Wilde in The Canterville Ghost, 1887, some years earlier than Shaw was supposed to have said it:

“We have everything in common America nowadays except, of course, language”.

It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.

A saying associated with Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in the Star Trek television series.

The saying does not occur in the series but derives from the 1987 song ‘Star Trekkin’ ‘ sung by The Firm. The nearest equivalent found in the series is (There is) ‘No life as we know it’ (here), said by Mr Spock in ‘The Devil in the Dark’, 1967.

If you gotta ask what jazz is you’ll never know.

Louis Armstrong.

The misquote is an invented variant of Armstrong’s response ‘If you still have to ask… shame on you’, quoted in Max Jones in Salute to Satchmo, 1970.

Me Tarzan, you Jane.

Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller), in Tarzan, the Ape Man, 1932.

The actual dialogue (not a classic example of the screenwriter’s art) went like this:

Jane: (pointing to herself) Jane.
Tarzan: Jane.
Jane: And you? You?
Tarzan: Tarzan, Tarzan.
Jane: Tarzan.
Tarzan: Jane. Tarzan. Jane. Tarzan…

Play it again, Sam.

Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), in the 1942 film Casablanca.

One of the best known movie misquotes. The nearest to ‘Play it again, Sam’ in the film is ‘Play it, Sam’, which is spoken by Ingrid Bergman’s character, not Bogart’s.


The white heat of technology.

Harold Wilson, British Prime Minister 1964-70 & 1974-76.

What Wilson actually said, in a speech at the Labour Party Conference, October 1963, was:

‘The Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated methods on either side of industry’.

Warts and all.

Oliver Cromwell

There’s no evidence to support the idea that Cromwell ever said ‘warts and all’.


Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?

Mae West, in the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong.

A bit nitpicky this one, but what West actually said was:

‘Why don’t you come up sometime, and see me?’

You dirty rat!

James Cagney

This line didn’t appear in any of Cagney’s many films. In a speech to the American Film Institute in 1974 he made a point of saying:

‘I never said “Mmm, you dirty rat!”‘



Jim Croce & Maury Muehleisen

Jim Croce (January 10, 1943 – September 20, 1973)


Which way are you goin’
Which side will you be on
Will you stand and watch while all the seeds of hate are sown
Will you stand with those who say that His will be done
One hand on the Bible, one hand on the gun
One hand on the Bible, one hand on the gun

Which way are you looking?
Is it hard to see
Do you say what’s wrong for him is not wrong for me
You walk the streets of righteousness
But you refuse to understand
You say you love the baby, but then you crucify the man
You say you love the baby, but then you crucify the man


Everyday things are changin’
Words once honored turn to lies
People wonderin’ can you blame them
It’s too far to run and too late to hide

Now you turn your back on all the things that you used to preach
Now it’s let him live in freedom if he lives like me
Well your line has changed, confusion rings
What have you become
Your olive branches turn to spears when your flowers turn to guns
Your olive branches turn to spears when your flowers turn to guns