No, Mark Twain didn’t say that!

“I never said half of the things I said,” remarked Yogi Berra.

Or so the story goes.

Similarly, Mark Twain is often credited with writing things that he never wrote. As are Winston Churchill and Benjamin Disraeli and other distinguished British Prime Ministers.

A somewhat confused and confusing story in USA Today recently let the general public know about the great Fred Shapiro, well-known among linguists and lexicographers but otherwise obscure. If you ever want to know the true source of a famous quotation, Shapiro is your man. The article, however, could stand some editing—not that anyone uses editors these days.

The main thing that makes the story confused and confusing is that it muddles the distinction between an inaccurate quotation from the correct source with an accurate quotation from an incorrect source. Don’t do that.

My favorite clip from the article is this one:

Never knew Obama was Irish, did you?

Categories: Linguistics