Like Durocher’s, many of our best known quotations are inaccurate, misattributed, or both. This is theme of “Nice Guys Finish Seventh”. Ralph Keyes’s book reveals that:
•“Any man who hates dogs and children can’t be all bad,” was said about W.C. Fields, not by him.
•“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” was coined by UCLA coach Red Sanders, not Vince Lombardi.
•“The opera ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings,” came from an older saying: “Church ain’t out ’til the fat lady sings.”
•Winston Churchill didn’t originate the phrase “iron curtain,” and did not say, “blood, sweat and tears.”
Hundreds of such examples illustrate Keyes’s Immutable Law of Misquotation: Misquotes drive out real quotes. “Certain things demand to be said,” he writes, “said in a certain way, and by the right person. Whether such comments are accurate is beside the point.”
Keyes confirms that William Tecumseh Sherman didn’t vow, “If nominated, I will not run. If elected I will not serve.” Nor did P. T. Barnum say “There’s a sucker born every minute.” According to Keyes such words voice observations we want made whether they actually were or not. Freud may never have said “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” but we certainly wish he had, and put the words in his mouth.
For a misquote to become familiar it must come from a well-known mouth. Take “You can’t trust anyone over 30.” Keyes discovered that the real originator of this famous student revolt slogan was an activist named Jack Weinberg. Remember him? Few do. That’s why Weinberg’s words were so often attributed to better known figures.
Keyes calls this “the flypaper effect.” Orphan quotes or comments by unknowns routinely gravitate to a Churchill, a Lincoln, or a Twain. Other syndromes Keyes discusses include “bumper stickering” (condensing a long comment to make it more quotable), “lip syncing” (mouthing someone else’s words as if they were your own), and “retro-quoting” (putting words in the mouths of famous dead people). Separate chapters focus on misquotes in history, politics, show business, sports, literature and academia.
“Nice Guys Finish Seventh” is a fascinating, eye-opening book. It’s both fun to read and a reliable work of reference. Ralph Keyes’s book was
•excerpted in READER'S DIGEST, PEOPLE WEEKLY, and CHICAGO TRIBUNE MAGAZINE
•featured in PARADE
•the subject of an author interview on NPR’s All Things Considered
Reviewers and commenters said about “Nice Guys Finish Seventh”:
Lively, informed…Reading this is great fun. SEATTLE TIMES
… a fascinating compilation of well-known sayings, phrases and quotations that are inaccurate, misattributed, or both. WILSON LIBRARY BULLETIN
Keyes’s research unearths interesting, often surprising facts about who said what when — as well as enough errors in standard references to suggest his volume deserves a place in most quotation collections. BOOKLIST
I am indebted to Ralph Keyes's new quotation corrector. EDMUND MORRIS, NEW YORK TIMES
Almost all “standard quotations” are wrong and the stories of their rectification, so well told here by Ralph Keyes, give us great insight into human foibles and cultural biases. STEPHEN JAY GOULD
I have had occasion to study your great book…and consider it to have the best research of any quotation book ever published. I have always thought of your work as an inspiration and model. FRED SHAPIRO, editor, THE YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS
If you haven’t discovered this entertaining (and well researched) book, I encourage you to find a copy. It’s a delight to every quote sleuth who’s ever been involved in a fruitless search for a source. LYNN M. FOX, University of Northern Colorado Library