The Bible says, "Whoever has will be given more, and they will have in abundance; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them." We're no religious scholars, but we're reasonably sure Christ was talking about Facebook quotes there. It seems as if any obscure authors will be quickly forgotten, while their most famous words are all attributed to Mark Twain. Or Einstein, or Bob Marley, or whoever is a convenient Mark Twain substitute. This happens even when the quotes are at total odds with the misattributed speaker. For example ...
In his 1880 book Des vers, Guy de Maupassant references a passage from a letter he got from Gustave Flaubert, in which the author of Madame Bovary says, "The Earth has its boundaries, but human stupidity is infinite!" So why not just credit this quote to Flaubert? If you need a smart guy to say it, he wasn't exactly some dummy.
Turns out we owe the confusion to this psychiatrist (who only looked like a cult leader):
The first person who mentioned that phrase and Einstein in the same paragraph was the influential Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls. One of the first iterations of the anecdote was in his 1947 book Ego, Hunger, And Aggression, wherein he claims "a great astronomer" once said "Two things are infinite, as far as we know -- the universe and human stupidity." He goes on to say that "Today, we know that this statement is not quite correct. Einstein has proved that the universe is limited."
Not only is that a way better punchline, but it's not even clear in that passage who the "great astronomer" in question was. Certainly Einstein wasn't one, and Perls explicitly mentions him as a separate person. However, in subsequent works and publications, Perls had changed the story so many times that by 1969, he had convinced himself that it was Einstein who said it. The dude repeated his own joke so much that even he believed it. This may explain why we've started a small but earnest religion centered around Teddy Roosevelt (hallowed be his name).
It's not surprising that so many people associate this quote with Picasso. After all, he was a prominent practitioner of artistic appropriation. However, the phrase first appeared in a 1892 issue of The Gentleman's Magazine, in an article written by the lesser-known W.H. Davenport. Praising the work of Lord Tennyson, Davenport said: "great poets imitate and improve, whereas small ones steal and spoil." You'll recognize that as the complete opposite of what the famous quote says, so what happened there? Small poets, basically.
It turned up three decades later in a 1920 essay by T.S. Eliot, who elaborated by saying, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different." That second part seems rather crucial to his point, but by the time it resurfaced in a 1959 book about James Joyce, it had become simply "Immature poets borrow; mature poets steal," ironically doing exactly what Eliot said bad poets do.
Having finally hit on a version of the aphorism that made assholes feel good, it's been attributed over the years to everyone from Igor Stravinsky to William Faulkner. Then, starting in 1988, known thief Steve Jobs started telling everyone he was inspired by none other than Pablo Picasso.
It's not clear why he thought Picasso said that, but it's incredibly clear why he was a fan of the sentiment.
This quote first became popular after it appeared in an essay by Henry David Thoreau titled "Civil Disobedience." Further investigation reveals that the motto Thoreau was referring to had been a signature of The United States Magazine And Democratic Review, a monthly magazine from his time, which published articles by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thoreau himself, among others. The slogan in question had been coined by journalist and editor John Louis O'Sullivan, who also happened to be the man who coined the term "Manifest Destiny," i.e. some of the most government in the history of the country.
It wasn't until the publication of a page-turner called History Of Rhode Island in 1853, 27 years after Jefferson's death and only 15 after O'Sullivan coined the slogan, that the quote was attributed to Jefferson. His estate has been trying to undo the damage ever since.
Confucius is the king of the misquote, and this yearbook classic is no exception. If you think about it even a little, you'll realize that it makes no sense for him to have said these words. Confucius lived between 551 and 479 BCE, a time when very few people could afford the luxury of "choosing" a job they liked.
That's probably why it's nearly impossible to find printed mentions of this quote before the 1980s. It seems to have first been mentioned in an interview with a professor for Princeton Alumni Weekly, which was quoting an "old-timer" friend of a friend. Unfortunately, that "old-timer" is still unknown, and the only person who could have told us their name passed away a few years ago.
The quote didn't become popular until 1987, when it was brought up by a business guru who introduced it as "an oriental proverb." Ah, yes, the ancient Orient of 1982. He even used it as an inspirational epigraph before then in a computer magazine in 1985, where it was attributed to Confucius, probably for the first time. But judging by all the terribly ironic posters in your company's break room, it certainly was not the last.
Da Vinci did in fact say something similar to this. Sort of. But the earliest version of the five-word quote was articulated by playwright and U.S. Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce in 1931, and it wasn't attributed to Leonardo until 70 years later, when an Italian businessman included the quote in a multi-page Campari advertisement in The New Yorker. None of that is as interesting as the fact that "sophistication" itself was an unknown concept in Da Vinci's time.
Nowadays, when we say something or someone is sophisticated, we are implying that they are refined and deep. Not inclined to read this website, in other words. While these attributes have been admired for centuries, we didn't invent a succinct but all-encompassing term for them until the late 19th century. The use of this word during Da Vinci's time had more negative connotations, and actually referred to adulterated substances, or unreliable texts with missing passages and spurious additions. So that Campari advertisement was a layered work of art in its own right.
What Da Vinci wrote in his notebooks is considerably less ... simple than that: "Though human ingenuity may make various inventions which, by the help of various machines answering the same end, it will never devise any inventions more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than Nature does; because in her inventions nothing is wanting, and nothing is superfluous, and she needs no counterpoise when she makes limbs proper for motion in the bodies of animals." Really hard to put that sucker on a meme, though.
Most people sharing this quote are talking about minorities they don't like, and in case there were any doubts, its real author is proud to confirm that's exactly what he meant. Those words are from Kevin Alfred Strom, an American white supremacist and editor of a far-right magazine. That's where the quote first appeared, in his 1993 essay "All America Must Know the Terror That Is Upon Us." Sounds like a fun guy, right? Oh, also he was convicted of possessing child pornography in 2008. Truly, a hero of rational thinking.
Though it's been misattributed for years, the whole thing came to a head in 2015, when a conservative Australian politician shared a tweet referencing the maxim, only to be informed of his embarrassing gaffe. Needless to say, he deleted his tweet, but Strom himself soon claimed authorship for the phrase, and shared some of his hypotheses concerning why it was being attributed to Voltaire instead. It's not like Voltaire would have necessarily disagreed, but Strom said, "Whoever hijacked my quote and put it over Voltaire's signature liked what I was saying, [but] he didn't dare make his point with a quote from a known 'racist' or 'anti-Semite,' no matter how good the quote was." We hate to say it, but the child pornographer is probably right. Please don't quote us on that.
Basically, just scribble your quotes on the inside of a binder and see where they go. It'll be an adventure.
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For more, check out 5 Famous Figures That Stupid People Love To Misquote and 5 Great Thinker Quotes You're Using Wrong.
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