Churchill and Twain Said It All

10 Apr

If there’s a quote somewhere, it’s often attributed to Winston Churchill, Mark Twain, or Lincoln, even if it’s not… because it’s easier to remember than “Edna St. Vincent Millay.” As much as it’s important to be accurate… does it matter?

This came up because I was thinking of the quote: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Mitt Romney, when he ran for president (remember that? Four years before Trump?), misquoted Churchill with this very important quote. However, it was John Maynard Keynes, the British economist who came up with the idea that massive government intervention stimulates the economy. His ideas are so embraced by big government folks that any facts to the contrary are ignored. Of course, I ignore facts that says it works, so I quote The West Wing by saying, “Economists make astrologers look good.” Of course, they were quoting someone else.

Churchill’s name did not come out of a hat for this quote, though. He actually lived this quote; changed parties twice. In 1927, he defended himself by saying, “The only way a man can remain consistent amid changing circumstances is to change with them while preserving the same dominating purpose.” That sounds awfully close and conveys the same message.

Gregory F. Sullivan, who researches this sort of thing, calls that “textual proximity.” Because Churchill was probably mentioned at one point close to Keynes’ quote, people mistakenly associated with Churchill. Even I’m making sure to link my quotes here, because I’ve fallen into that trap twice while writing this post!

Simply doing the research into many of these quotes. one finds that the actual quote is often far more interesting than my paraphrase of it… or someone else’s paraphrase. For example, I love the quote, “Never assume intent when incompetence will suffice.” Except that’s not the quote–this is actually Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. However, that took a couple more words to type out. Of course, you could attribute that to Churchill, but what he said was “His ‘insolence… may be founded on stupidity rather than malice.” Or if you want to honor Heinlein, one of the most famous sci-fi authors, “You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.” But in actuality, there are at least two more quotes that are similar from a hundred years older… but Hanlon’s version stuck.

So the origin of a quote is important to me because–the actual quote is often far, far better. My grandpa used to say, “It’s a far better thing I do, then to say hello to you!” Of course, he knew he was misquoting Dickens, but he was being goofy. I haven’t actually mentioned misquoted Twain and Lincoln, so maybe you have some? Let me know in the comments below! If you feel like quoting me, you’ll need to read some of my books. However, if your attention is pretty limited, just download one of my stories for free. I won’t judge.

One Response to “Churchill and Twain Said It All”

  1. alessandrascarpulla April 10, 2021 at 7:38 am #

    Brilliant!

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