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Friday, February 24, 2012

From Whence Came The Words In My Mouth?

Horace "Go West" Greeley

Has someone ever claimed that you said something you didn't? You're not the only one to fall prey to faulty memories. Here are three others who have been misquoted:

  • Have you ever heard the phrase "Go West, Young Man"? I remember learning about Manifest Destiny in Mr. Segai's 8th grade History class. Our history book said that Horace Greeley wrote these words in an article for his newspaper, New York Tribune. It turns out Greeley reprinted an article by John Babsone Soul. It first appeared in the Terre Haute Express in 1851. Greeley credited Soule but it didn't matter. History was bound to accredit the sentiment to Greeley.
    Woodrow "Limerick" Wilson
  • President Woodrow Wilson loved to quote limericks. This one was a particular favorite of his:

    As a beauty I'm not a great star,
    There are others more handsome by far,
    But my face, I don't mind it,
    Because I'm behind it-
    'Tis the folks in the front that I jar.

    He recited the little poem so often to so many people, that the populace generally thought he had coined it himself. The poet Anthony Euwer actually wrote the limerick. President Wilson didn't even find the poem himself. The credit there goes to his daughter, Eleanor. (If you subscribe to the New York Times, I highly recommend this article about Wilson's love of limericks and his incapacitating stroke.)  
    James "You Dirty Rat" Cagney
  • James Cagney is frequently caricatured with the speech bubble "You dirty rat!" Let me pop that bubble for you. He was in over seventy films, and in nary a one did he utter his famous catchphrase. I suppose it was his tough-guy persona that made the false quotation stick.

As much as we wish it weren't so, it seems that the general public has the final say on what we've said. The dirty rats.

Bobson, Paul F., Jr. and George, John. They Never Said It. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1989. Print.

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