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Fri Dec 19 10:37:18 SAST 2014

People doth misquote too much

Theo Merz, - Telegraph | 22 January, 2014 00:13
Actors Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. attend the premiere of "Sherlock Holmes". "Elementary" is uttered numerous times by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and, less frequently, "my dear Watson" but the phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson" never appears in any of Doyle's books. File photo
Image by: Peter Kramer

The 10 quotations below have passed into common parlance because they encapsulate human truths or sum up much-loved characters. The only problem is, in most cases, nobody actually wrote them.

Elementary, my dear Watson

"Elementary" is uttered numerous times by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and, less frequently, "my dear Watson" but the phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson" never appears in any of Doyle's books.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

The line from William Congreve's 1697 poem The Mourning Bride is: "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned/Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."

It's a shame to lose the first half of the couplet in the misquotation, but the addition of "hath" lends a charming Olde Worlde feel.

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it

This one is always attributed to Voltaire, but actually came from a 20th-century biography of him by the English writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall. The author was summarising the philosopher's attitude, but the first-person pronoun led many to take it for a direct quote.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble

The witches in Macbeth say "Double, double, toil and trouble."

It's surprising anyone still gets this wrong, considering the correct line was cemented in the cultural imagination by the 1993 Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen TV movie which took the quotation as its title.

Methinks the lady doth protest too much

The real line, spoken by Queen Gertrude in Hamlet, is "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

It's a small error compared to the title of the Alanis Morrisette song inspired by the play: Doth I Protest Too Much.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

Never said in so many words by Shakespeare's Juliet.

The actual quote is: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Please, Sir, can I have some more?

In Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, the orphan rises from the table, advances towards the master and says: "Please, sir, I want some more." The same line is used in the 1968 musical film Oliver!, so the misquote remains unattributed.

Theirs but to do or die

Lord Tennyson's poem Charge of the Light Brigade reads: "Theirs not to make reply/ Theirs not to reason why/ Theirs but to do and die", but the line is often misquoted by people thinking of a "do or die" mentality.

Shaken, not stirred

Ian Fleming's James Bond asks a barman in Dr No for "a medium vodka dry Martini ... shaken and not stirred". The Bond films have embedded the truncated line.

Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink

In Samuel Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the sailor describes his time stranded at sea: " Water, water, everywhere/And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink."

The line is regularly misquoted in popular culture, but nowhere quite as spectacularly as by Homer Simpson who, when stranded on a dinghy in the open sea in one episode, exclaims: "Water, water everywhere, so let's all have a drink!"

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