Have you seen this saying? “The problem with quotes found on the Internet is that they are often not true.” – Abraham Lincoln

There’s no shortage of quotation sites online, like BrainyQuote, Quoteland, Goodreads and Wikiquote. I visit them all the time. Yet sometimes it’s difficult to pin down attribution. Especially with many inspirational quotes that seem to just get passed around online.

Who said it, Maya Angelou or a fortune cookie? Einstein or your Facebook friend? So many quotes have been falsely attributed to Winston Churchill that’s there’s even a web page, on the official site of the International Churchill Society, devoted to debunking these myths.

Another site called Quote Investigator aims to be the last word on who really said what. For example, a recent entry looked at this quote: “A stumble is not a fall.” It has been credited to everything from Oprah to Malcolm X to a Haitian proverb. QI examined the usage of the adage, and similarly worded sentiments, over time. The conclusion: it evolved from proverbs that were circulating as far back as the 1600s.

Snopes, which is dedicated to fact-checking and debunking urban legends, also has a questionable quotes archive. As they observe, people like to store pithy quotes and wait for just the right occasion to decorate their speech with their sparkle. “What we often don’t realize,” says Snopes, “is that many of these glittering linguistic gems are not the real thing, but mere costume jewelry.”

A well-placed quote from some notable or another can reinforce the point of whatever you’re trying to express. I use quotes judiciously when writing speeches. For one, I try to make sure they’re genuine. I’m also mindful that they shouldn’t be a crutch.

Writer/poet/journalist Ambrose Bierce, in his satirical The Devil’s Dictionary, included this definition: “Quotation, n: The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.”

And it was A.A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh author) who once said: “A quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business.”

At least I think they said these things. Don’t quote me on it.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxman, connect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, etc., etc.

June 13, 2018

Share This