I have two recent examples for you relating to famous quotes. Granted, misattribution has gone on for years, but there seems to be an exponential increase now with the Internet.
My favourite Marianne Williamson quote is from her work Return to Love. For years I have been saying that although it was indeed her quote, it was made notable by Nelson Mandela. Almost every quote website, several books, and at least one film say it was Nelson Mandela who used these words in his inauguration speech in 1994:
“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, 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 won’t 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’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I probably would have continued to misattribute the quote had I not been looking for audio or video of some of the most moving speeches of all time, as I was asked to do a talk on the power of language.
I found Churchill’s “We will fight” speech and I found Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, and then I went looking for Mandela’s speech. I found it, and listened to it start to finish. There was no reference to the “our deepest fear” quote. I found a transcript of the speech, and again, no quote.
Then I started searching Nelson Mandela and Marianne Williamson and confirmed what I already knew from listening to his speech — that it was a misattribution to Mandela.
Since I have told so many people over the years about this quote and its false origin, it only seemed fitting to fix that error. Perhaps someone doing an Internet search on the quote in the future will stumble upon my words and leave Mandela’s name out of it.
Strangely enough, this article started off to be one about Ontario Northland Transportation, and how short-sighted politicians have made another decision about the North from a very southern perspective.
The Liberal Minister of Correctional Services, Madeleine Meilleur, called out, “Let them buy cars!” when supporters were simply asking to keep the rail line open until after Thanksgiving for post-secondary students to be able to go home by train for the holidays. I couldn’t help but think of another misguided woman, completely out of touch with the people she was supposed to be serving.
I went to research the origins of the “Let them eat cake” quote, hoping to make some parallels between these women (including wishing that Meilleur would be “better” and that she wouldn’t “lose her head” again like that) only to find out that it was not Marie Antoinette who said it.
(Then again, I found out that info on the Internet.)