Famous Quotes — Verifying the Wisdom Upon Which We Rely

Famous Quotes: Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein, 1921. Photo: F. Schmutzer (PD

The world of social media seems full of famous quotes these days. A pretty picture with a famous quote by someone of whom we may or may not have heard, can create a lasting impression—at least long enough to inspire our day.

Quite often though, these famous quotes were never spoken or written by the famous person to which they are attributed. Yet, the famous quote is to be found all over the Internet. This kind of makes you wonder how many lies there are on the Internet that are believed by the masses. Too many who repeat the quotes are too lazy to check. Could it be also that some are too trusting—believing in everything they find on the Internet?

Verifying Famous Quotes

There is no single source with every possible quote listed along with their sources. For many of the famous quotes you may find on the Internet, WikiQuote.org remains a relatively good source for verification. It’s not perfect. Like Wikipedia, it relies on volunteers to add its content. Much of the material added is referenced, so you have a way to double-check their verification of quotes. Many misattributed quotes are included in some of their articles so you can know that some of popular sayings were found by Wiki volunteers, but found to belong to someone else. Other famous quotes have been found, through exhaustive searches, not to have been included in any of the famous person’s writings or speeches.

Some Famous Quotes Destroyed by Misquoting

Famous Quotes: Norman Vincent Peale
Norman Vincent Peale. Photo: Roger Higgins, World Telegraph (PD).

One famous quote I looked up today, from Norman Vincent Peale, I found on a popular quote site called BrainyQuote.com. The problem with this site is that they have no verification of quotes, their attributions or their sources. And, in today’s instance, they got the quote wrong. The difference, at first glance, appears to be subtle and insignificant, but upon closer inspection, is shown to be both profound and important.

Here is the incorrect quote from BrainyQuote.com:

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

The correct quote, with documented source in WikiQuote.org, is as follows:

“Change your thoughts and you can change the world.”

According to WikiQuote.org, this wording is, “As quoted in Back on Track : How to Straighten Out Your Life When It Throws You a Curve (1997) by Deborah Norville, p. 201.”

But notice the differences. On the popular website, “you change your world.” This is small-minded and weak. Of course you change your own world—your mind—by changing your thoughts. That doesn’t say much. That’s pretty worthless compared to the real quote. What Mr. Peale really said talks about one individual—you—having the ability to change the entire world by changing your thoughts. With the misquote, a change in thought has no stated change on anything except the person’s own internal world—”your world.” With Norman Vincent Peale’s intended statement, each one of us has far more power to affect all of civilization and history. See the difference?

So, if you ever use some website like BrainyQuote.com to find cool, famous quotes, take the extra step to verify that the person actually said it. Verify the wording, too.

If you find a false quote that sounds better than the original, then feel free to use it, but don’t tack the person’s name on it, if they didn’t say it. You might add something like, “Sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein, but this is a paraphrase of a much longer quotation,” or something like this, depending on the special circumstances.

If we all do our part, we can help raise the quality of material on the Internet, including the use of famous quotes.

This article was originally published 2016:0125 on RodMartinJr.com.

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