Pithy aphorisms or movie lines, we all have “myth-quotations” we know and love. In this article, we’re going to burst your bubble about some of your favorites.
Misquotations — or as we prefer to call them, “myth-quotations” — abound in our culture. Despite the much-celebrated human ability to communicate, we tend to get things wrong almost as often as we get them right.
As Yogi Berra once pointed out, “I never said half the things I said.” The same is true for other famous people and their fictional counterparts. Whether through bad memory or deliberate editing, certain quotations tend to get mangled in translation. Here are five famous misquotes, and the truth behind each.
Myth 1: “Let them eat cake!”
According to legend, when French queen Marie Antoinette learned that the French peasants were so poor they couldn’t afford bread, she replied, “If they have no bread, let them eat cake.” This would be a monstrous thing to say if true, but apparently it’s a classic myth-quotation.
By all indications, this was a piece of antiroyalist propaganda circulated in the era of the French Revolution. While it may have been said at some point, according to philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau it was said by another princess in Grenoble, at least 10 years before Marie Antoinette’s birth.
Myth 2: “The only two certainties in life are death and taxes.”
There’s probably no truer myth-quotation than this one, but it’s often mis attributed. Neither Mark Twain nor British statesmen Benjamin Disraeli invented it, though Twain was fond of repeating it. In fact, the great epigramist Benjamin Franklin was the author, in a letter written in 1789.
Myth 3: “Money is the root of all evil.”
This quote is wrong in several ways. First, it’s usually attributed to Jesus Christ himself, but in fact it was uttered by St. Paul. Second, the gist is that the love of money is the root of all evil, not money itself. Third, the word “all” in the original Greek probably should have been translated as “all kinds of” in the first place.
The original of this myth-quotation comes from 1 Timothy 6:10. In the classic King James Version of the Bible, it reads: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
Myth 4: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Almost right. The actual statement was “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This was pointed out by the first Lord Acton (Sir John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton) in a letter to Catholic Bishop Mandell Creighton in1887. The power he was referring to was the power of the Pope in Rome.
Myth 5: “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”
We couldn’t end this article without mentioning one of the classic myth-quotations of all filmdom. In the Humphrey Bogart classic Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), a gang of ruffians tries to convince Bogart’s character that they’re Mexican police, and Bogie demands to see their badges.
The leader then replies, “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!” Over the years this has been corrupted to “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”, making it one of the most misquoted movie lines of all time.
The general consensus is that the current incarnation stems from a 1967 episode of the TV series The Monkees, when Mickey Dolenz uttered the line as it’s currently known. Now that you know the truth, don’t let this myth-quotation make a Monkee out of you, you hear?