A Fourth Helping of Famous Myth-Quotations

Myth-quotations plague any language, but English seems to positively revel in them. Here are a few more for you to enjoy.

Although English is a robust written language, our spoken language is rife with errors — especially myth-quotations, twisted versions of things others have said or written in the past. Sometimes the changes are minor and hard to notice; sometimes it’s hard to recognize the original buried in the popular.

Whatever the case, it’s instructive to take a look at how a statement, quip, or quote has evolved in the public consciousness over the years. Check out these famous examples, drawn from popular culture of the past few centuries.

Myth 1: “Music has charms to soothe the savage beast.”

Well, maybe. It would certainly be interesting to see what any science done on the subject has to say, especially since if any has been done, it’s based on a myth-quotation. The actual quote is “Musick has Charms to soothe a savage Breast.” Note the “r” in the last word: breast, not beast.

The difference is only a few letters, but it makes all the difference, doesn’t it? The original comes from William Congreve’s play The Mourning Bride, in which a character goes on to say, “To soften Rocks; to bend the knotted Oak.” No beasts, just breasts, rocks, and trees.

Myth 2: “Nice guys finish last.”

While this certainly seems to be true most of the time, this myth-quotation derives from one man’s assessment of one particular group of nice guys, not all nice guys everywhere. In 1946, baseball manager Leo Durocher was asked his opinion of that year’s New York Giants.

He liked the team, but thought they’d finish last in the pennant race. The way he stated his opinion, though, ended up creating one of those misquotes that take root in the American consciousness: “Take a look at them. All nice guys. They’ll finish last. Nice guys — finish last.”

Myth 3: “Pride goeth before a fall.”

The Bible is a common source of our favorite myth-quotations, and here’s a great example. Take a look at Proverbs, Chapter 16, Verse 18; it actually reads, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” The true verse is actual more lyrical than the misquote, especially in the King James version.

Myth 4: “Beam me up, Scotty.”

Diehard Trekkers will be quick to tell you that Captain James T. Kirk of Star Trek fame never said this…exactly. He hit around a lot, with statements like “Beam us up home, Scotty,” “Beam me aboard,” “Two to beam up,” but never used the exact quote. In the fourth Star Trek movie, he did say, “Scotty, beam me up.”

The original Star Trek TV series is the source of a number of famous quotations, attributed particularly to Kirk, McCoy, and Spock, while the movies have added a few more. It’ll be interesting to see how J.J. Abrams handles this and other Trek-related myth-quotations in the newest Star Trek movie, due in 2009.