Famous quotes are like little nuggets of wisdom that follow us around and pop up at precisely the right time. But, did you know that many of the most famous quotes were taken completely out of context? Here, let’s review some famous quotes that mean something entirely different when you know the story behind them.
If you would like to read more about these quotes, you can check out the sources at the end of this article.
Sure, this quote is good, but the full quote is even better. It goes: “Great minds think alike, but fools seldom differ.” That last part is intended to say that if you’re always thinking of the same things as other people, you might want to start looking outside the box.
Well, not exactly. This was a misquote of the words of Leo Durocher (nicknamed “Leo the Lip”). He worked as the field manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers. When the Giants finished in seventh place during the height of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry, Durocher made an off-handed comment about the team finishing in seventh place because Mel Ott, the right-fielder for the Giants, was being too nice.
Baseball Digest swooped in and later reprinted the column, changing “seventh” to “last.”
These misquoted words soon became the motto (read: excuse) for douchebags everywhere.
Cant you give me brains? asked the Scarecrow.
You dont need them.”
This beloved quote from The Wizard of Oz is often taken out of context and seen at face value. However, when you place it back within the scene that it came from, it’s easy to see that the message was entirely different. Let’s take a look…
I think you are a very bad man, said Dorothy.
Oh, no, my dear; Im really a very good man, but Im a very bad Wizard, I must admit.
Cant you give me brains? asked the Scarecrow.
You dont need them. You are learning something every day. A baby has brains, but it doesnt know much. Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth the more experience you are sure to get.
That may all be true, said the Scarecrow, but I shall be very unhappy unless you give me brains.
This is a quote by Vince Lombardi, who later stated that he regretted that being one of his most remembered quotes. I can see why! Taken out of context, it makes him seem like a bit of a rude guy. Here’s what he had to say about it in an interview…
I wish to hell Id never said the damned thing, Lombardi once told a reporter. I meant the effort… I meant having a goal… I sure as hell didnt mean for people to crush human values and morality.
According to the New York Times, Gandhi himself never said this. This phrase, though rather inspiring, was diluted from various ideas that Gandhi presented, but he never actually uttered the phrase. What he actually said was: As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.
This popular quote is often used in contexts in which someone’s overwhelming curiosity could lead them to knowing things that they might not actually want to know.
What people don’t often notice? This statement is missing the last half.
The actual quote is “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.”
In this slightly more positive version of the quote, sure curiosity killed it, but baby, this cat’s got nine lives.
Ahhh, this old thang. Verse 6:10 of 1 Timothy in the bible is a quote often used to talk about capitalism and it’s seemingly inevitable roots in evil. However, like many other quotes on this list, this quote has been taken out of context. Though the real quote is fairly similar, it still changes the flair of it. It says, “The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.”
So, it’s certainly not to suggest that money is the root of ALL evil, and it’s more about the ways that we regard and use money, prioritizing it over other things in our lives. All of a sudden, the quote seems a little bit more definitive, and I’m alright with that.
This phrase has been passed through the ages like a big ol’ game of telephone, and there’s no real consensus on what the original quote is. Originally, it was adapted into English in the 16th century from a Medieval French proverb.
Another version to keep in the back pocket?
Rome wasnt built in a day, but it burned in one.
Again with the twisting of words to make them into easily digestible quotes! This concept was introduced in The Prince, by Nicolo Machiavelli. It essentially is used to describe a situation in which a good outcome excuses any bad things you had to do to get there. It’s certainly an interesting idea to ponder!
However, the original wording was a little bit less spicy, and was simply said by Machiavelli himself, rather than explicitly stated in the book: One must consider the final result.
So you’re going to see Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, are you? Well, look out for this scene, which is often misinterpreted in amateur versions of the play (and even some professional!)
When Juliet steps onto the balcony to say this, it is often thought that she is wondering where Romeo is. Actually, “wherefore art” doesn’t mean “where”, it means “why.” Juliet is wondering why Romeo was born into the Montague family the source of all their trouble.
Many people attribute this awesome quote to Marilyn Monroe. It’s a quote that reigns true with a lot of people, and has been seen as particularly poignant coming from the lips of Monroe, as she was often seen as someone who disturbed public ideas of what women were “allowed” to do at the time. It also spoke to the way that society usually judged Monroe as being unintelligent, and this quote is often used as an example of her under-the-surface intelligence.
Though Marilyn Monroe was actually very smart, we can’t credit her with this quote. The source is actually Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who teaches on Women’s and American History at Harvard. She is also a Pulitzer Prize winning historian, and overall pretty cool woman.
The quote originally appeared in a 1976 article about Puritan funeral services.
Okay, time for another one of the many bible verses that has become popular but is completely taken out of context! That seems to happen a lot with the bible.
The real version is similar to the original, but the slight changes to the wording make the quote mean something entirely different.
The original verse (Proverbs 27:10) states: “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”
So what was this actually supposed to mean? There are many many interpretations about everything in the bible, but here is one explanation from Thoughts From Shallot below:
The phrase began among soldiers who fought shoulder-to-shoulder as The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb. These men who shed blood together fighting for a common cause shared a bond that their relations would never understand.
Proverbs 27:10 (pretty sure Ive used this verse ad nauseum) says Do not forsake your own friend or your fathers friend, nor go to your brothers house in the day of your calamity; better is a neighbor nearby than a brother far away. Throughout the entirety of the Bible, we see God using people whose families put the fun in dysfunctional. Josephs brothers sold him into slavery. Think about that for a second. Slaves werent hired servants, who were often treated badly enough. A slave was property, and he was treated as an object. He was less than a person. And Josephs brothers threw him into that sorry excuse for a life. Then, to top off that lovely little bit of familial affection, they deceived their father into thinking that he was dead.
Lets talk about Cain and Abel for a second. A second should be all thats necessary, since these two have long ceased to be individuals and have become little more than a cautionary tale about the treachery of brothers. Abel did the right thing— so his brother got jealous of his goody-two-shoes siblings and beat his brains out. Real mature.
Jacob and Esau? Those two made the Montagues and the Capulets look like the Brady Bunch.
Tell me again about how family is such a great thing.
Everyone I know who protests the point Im trying to make here is someone from a very close-knit family that understands the way God meant that social unit to operate. If thats you, then praise God, because He has blessed you in ways that a lot of the world will never understand. Im not here to rend asunder what God has put together.
But for everyone else— the ones who come from broken homes, the ones who could never confide in their father or brother, the ones who never knew their birth parents, the ones who are alienated from their families: you are not alone. God is A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows…[He] sets the solitary in families (Psalm 68:5-6.) Before the world was created, He predestined us to adoption as sons (Ephesians 1:5,) and loved [us] with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3.) God knows full well how broken human families are. But He is a perfect Father. And your adopted Brother? He took on mortal flesh just so that He could die to save you. He didnt just pull some strings from on high, no, He walked willingly to the whip, and the thorns, and the nails, and the spear, and shed His blood to make you a part of His family so that you need never be alone again.
The blood of the covenant made in Christ is by far thicker than the water of the sinful human womb.
This particular quote is often used to justify nationalism to a most extreme degree. People believe that you should stick with, and agree with, your country, whether it’s right or wrong. The quote is often used as a justification for war, or other cruelties that certain countries inflict on other countries.
Well, that is definitely not how it was supposed to come across. The quote, said by German-American Carl Schurz in 1872, actually said: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”
It sounds a lot better when you hear it like that!
Okay, so here’s a quote that is used pretty commonly in modern colloquialism. It’s usually intended to mean, “the proof is right within this thing.”
However, (sigh) this is also a misquote.
The original saying goes back to the 14th Century, perhaps earlier, and the misquote was coined in the 1920s. So, we have a pretty long history of messing this one up. I have some good news, though! The original statement makes a whole lot more sense.
“The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
This phrase was intended to mean that you need to try out the food to know whether it was good or not. It’s a great phrase to use for people who say they “don’t like a food” before even trying it. You know who I’m talking about, Janet.
This is a quote from Alice in Wonderland, that has since been co-opted for use in popular culture, as a saccharine way to express the importance of love. It’s even the title of several popular songs.
Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s not how it was intended.
In Alice in Wonderland, this sentence is spit out by the Duchess, who is a horribly mean character. She makes this comment in passing immediately after she advocates for beating her baby for sneezing. Not exactly the quote of a sweet, peaceful person. In Lewis Carroll’s version, the Duchess was speaking sarcastically.
You know, it’s a real shame that we’ve taken what used to be a really lovely phrase and twisted it so much. Sure, the devil might be in your details, but for the originator of the phrase, a brilliant German architect named Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, God was in the details.
Yep, that’s right, he said, “God is in the details” and we just had to come along and turn it into a steaming crap pile.
Fun fact: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is also credited with the famous saying, “Less is more.” I’m pretty sure that one has remained the same over time, it’s pretty hard to mess up something so short. Though, on the other hand, we English speakers really have a knack for this type of thing.
While this is a very beautiful quote, it is often said that it was intended to be said to a woman. Nope! Shakespeare, who wrote this famous sonnet (arguably his most famous) actually wrote it for a man. He wrote hundreds of sonnets about the same man, who is written about in history as his dearest friend, though it’s hard to say whether they may have been romantically involved.
This quote is often used in an attempt to make Al Gore look like a weirdo. Despite this, Al Gore never claimed to invent the internet. What did he say?
Gore told Late Edition on CNN, During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.
Gore was referring to the part he played in funding the government development that led to the internet becoming the phenomenon it is today.
It was Declan McCullagh, news writer for Wired, who later changed it to “invented” when describing criticism from Dick Armey of Gores statement.
This quote went viral after Osama Bin Laden’s death. It’s most often attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. In reality? It was pulled from the Faceboo status of a 24-year-old English teacher.
This is commonly misattributed to Gandhi, but it’s unlikely that he said it. Instead, The Christian Science Monitor pointed out that there is very similar wording within the speech of activist Nicholas Klein, delivered in 1918. Nicholas said: “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that, is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.”
Nice try, people.
You know that famous quote that Nelson Mandela said? The one that gets us through every day, knowing that we just need to look fear in the eye and say back off! I can do this!
Well, it’s not exactly what you thought it was. It turns out, Nelson Mandela never uttered these words.
Instead, it was a passage from a self help book written by Marianne Williamson in 1992.
The full passage said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
If you really think about it, this quote doesn’t even make sense. The word “man” in this context is a synonym for “mankind”, so saying this is essentially like saying, That’s one small step for mankind, one giant leap for mankind.”
Fortunately, Neil Armstrong didn’t actually say this.
The transmission was cutting out, and there was one word in the sentence that escaped our hearing: “a.”
Yep, that simple word made a big difference, because what Armstrong was trying to say was, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Well… that is until you add in the controversy!
According to Wikiquote:
- In the actual sound recordings he apparently fails to say “a” before “man” and says: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” This was generally considered by many to simply be an error of omission on his part. Armstrong long insisted he did say “a man” but that it was inaudible. Prior to new evidence supporting his claim, he stated a preference for the “a” to appear in parentheses when the quote is written. In September 2006 evidence based on new analysis of the recordings conducted by Peter Shann Ford, a computer programmer based in Sydney, Australia, whose company Control Bionics helps physically handicapped people to use their own nerve impulses to communicate through computers, indicated that Armstrong had said the missing “a.” This information was presented to Armstrong and NASA on 28 September 2006 and reported in the Houston Chronicle (30 September 2006). The debate continues on the matter, as “Armstrong’s ‘poetic’ slip on Moon” at BBC News (3 June 2009) reports that more recent analysis by linguist John Olsson and author Chris Riley with higher quality recordings indicates that he did not say “a”.
Hmmm, if you actually listen to the movie it says, “life was like a box of chocolates.” Close, but no cigar.
Another little misquote! People usually quote the Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as looking at the mirror and saying this. In reality, she doesn’t say mirror twice, but instead says, “Magic mirror.”
Henry David Thoreau is often cited as having said this rather whimsical quote. However, this is a diluted and twisted version of something he did say that (somewhat) expressed the sentiment. Who knows how the quote diverged so far from it’s source. Here is what he really said:
I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours … In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.”