“Myth-quotations” are more common than most folks realize, due as much to fallible human memory as to bad pronunciation. A few months back, we told you the truth about five famous misquotations; here’s the story on five more.
“Myth-quotations” are inevitable in a Tower-of-Babel world like ours. Even in societies with a common language, you can’t count on a message being passed from one well-meaning person to another without it getting garbled. Add the uncertainties of memory, and the trouble mounts.
If you feel like “somebody set us up the bomb”* by the time word trickles down to you, you’re not alone. Here are five cases of well-known quotes from popular media that just ain’t so — including one from the most popular book of all time, the Christian Bible.
Myth 1: “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”
Most of us assume this popular myth-quotation is in the Bible somewhere, but it isn’t. The closest thing to it is Proverbs 13:24 of the lyrical King James Version: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”
Think of the “Spare the rod” revision of Proverbs 13:24 as the Reader’s Digest condensed version. It’s pithier and easier to remember, anyway.
Myth 2: “Billions and billions!”
Carl Sagan, who did more than anyone to popularize science in the twentieth century, had to live with this myth-quotation for years. He never said it, though he did once say, “So it is clear that there are, in the accessible universe, some hundreds of billions of billions of stars, all more or less like our own.”
Bit of a difference, that. However: later in life, just before his death, he finally acceded and titled a book Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium.
Myth 3: “If you build it, they will come.”
What invisible Shoeless Joe Jackson actually said to Ray Kinsella in the movie Field of Dreams was, “If you build it, he will come.” Granted, this isn’t a terrible error, and after all he did whisper it in a ghostly voice, so the origin of this myth-quotation is entirely understandable.
Myth 4: “Luke, I am your father.”
While Darth Vader may be the most famous deadbeat dad in cinema, he never said this — quite. It all came about when Luke was hanging off the heat radiator in Cloud City and Darth Vader (which loosely translates as “Dark Father” in Dutch) made a pitch for Luke to join him on the Dark Side.
Good ol’ Darth asks Luke if Obi Wan told him what really happened to his father. Luke, who was no doubt annoyed by the loss of his hand, yelled, “He told me enough! He told me you killed him!” And Old Deadbeat replied, “No, I am your father” — not quite the same phrase as the popular myth-quotation.
Myth 5: “Just the facts, ma’am.”
Here’s one of most famous quotations from TV-Land, and it’s wrong, wrong, wrong. Sergeant Joe Friday of Dragnet fame never said it even once during the entire run of the TV series — the closest he came was statements like, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”
Nevertheless, you see it all over. Bruce Willis (kind of) quoted it in the second Die Hard movie (“Just the fax, ma’am”), and it made it into the Dragnet movie back in 1987. This is an excellent example of how, like the old “Let them eat cake” chestnut, a myth-quotation can become an inextricable part of popular culture.
*The actual quote is “Somebody set up us the bomb!” which makes it even more absurd. This comes from the same badly-translated Zero Wing video game intro that spawned the Internet meme, “All your base are belong to us.”