'Hemingway Didn't Say That' (And Neither Did Twain Or Kafka) There are tons of quotes from famous people out there — and a lot of them are just plain wrong. Author Garson O'Toole has dedicated himself to setting the record straight.

'Hemingway Didn't Say That' (And Neither Did Twain Or Kafka)

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/522581148/522632473" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


There are so many famous sayings, so many quotes from famous people and so many that are just plain wrong, like this one.


A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.

SIEGEL: That is not a Chinese proverb.

MCEVERS: It does not belong to Maya Angelou, even though it did appear on a U.S. postage stamp with her.

SIEGEL: And it is not the coinage of former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz.

MCEVERS: Though you probably could have guessed that.

SIEGEL: No. A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song belongs to Joan Walsh Anglund.

MCEVERS: Author of children's books, and one of the many people who don't get the credit they deserve for their perfectly crystallized thoughts. Until now.

GARSON O'TOOLE: There's so many of these quotations that have been transformed and evolved and been reassigned from one person to another.

SIEGEL: Garson O'Toole - that's his pen name - has dedicated himself to writing these literary wrongs on his website, Quote Investigator. He's also written a new book called "Hemingway Didn't Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations."

MCEVERS: And here's another one that you or someone you know might have unwittingly messed up.

O'TOOLE: Don't bend. Don't water it down. Don't try to make it logical. Don't edit your own soul according to the fashion.

MCEVERS: It's Kafka-esque. Well, a lot of people think it is writing advice from Franz Kafka but it's really about Kafka.

SIEGEL: It's from another writer, Anne Rice, who included it in a foreword to a 1995 collection of Kafka's work.

MCEVERS: And how does this get mixed up? It's like a game of telephone.

SIEGEL: Rice writes about Kafka.

MCEVERS: Someone mistakenly repeats her writing as Kafka's.

SIEGEL: For years, this mistake bounces around on social media.

MCEVERS: And then Anne Rice herself, not recognizing her own work, posts the quote on her own Facebook page and attributes it to Kafka.

O'TOOLE: And so that was enormously confusing to me because I thought if anyone would be able to recognize that quotation, it would be the person who created it.

SIEGEL: Not so, it turns out. Such is the potency of today's fake quote.

MCEVERS: Garson O'Toole sent Rice a message, and she corrected the mistake in a follow-up post.

SIEGEL: Now, O'Toole says there are a couple of patterns in the way false quotations mutate. There are people who have reputations for saying smart or funny things, so it's easy to assign other quotes to them.

MCEVERS: Like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, Yogi Berra or Mark Twain.

O'TOOLE: There might be a joke, and somebody would say it's Twain-like. And then the next person will say no, actually it's from Twain.

SIEGEL: And then there are quotations that are fake from the get-go.


JEFF GOLDBLUM: (As Donald Ripley) It's become appalling clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.

SEAN PATRICK FLANERY: (As Jeremy Reed) Albert Einstein.

MCEVERS: I heard it in a movie, it must be a thing. Hollywood wouldn't have misled us.

SIEGEL: Ah, but they would. That Einstein quote is an invention of screenwriter Victor Salva from the 1995 movie "Powder."

MCEVERS: He had Jeff Goldblum's character say that, Einstein never did. But once it's out there posted underneath a picture of Einstein, good luck taking it back.

SIEGEL: But Garson O'Toole is trying. He enjoys poring through the histories of these famous expressions. And...

O'TOOLE: I'm also very glad when I get to give credit to the person who actually said it instead of some later, better-known person.

SIEGEL: So before you quote, remember this wisdom that's not from Mark Twain.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

SIEGEL: A lie can get halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.

MCEVERS: And then consult the site Quote Investigator or Garson O'Toole's new book, "Hemingway Didn't Say That."


Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.