Word Maven Patricia T. O'Conner on Quotation Magnets

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Our word maven Patricia T. O'Conner talks about quotations that are credited to the wrong people. She’ll also answer questions about language and grammar. An updated and expanded third edition of her book, Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, is available in paperback, as is  Origins of the Specious, written with Stewart Kellerman.

If you have a question about language and grammar, leave a comment or call us at 212-433-9692!


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [36]


Yogi Berra did say that quote attributed to him, which was something along the lines of "I didn't say most of what I've said". I remember reading it myself in a NY Times opinion piece.

Dec. 19 2012 09:39 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Actually, "like" seems to have been replaced by "all" in phrases like "I was all, 'oh, I never liked them,' & you were all, 'yeah, I never did either.'"

Dec. 19 2012 01:59 PM
Cynthia/nyc from nyc

"They agreed with Jane and I" is an example of people fearing to use the pronoun "me" when there is more than one person involved.

Dec. 19 2012 01:58 PM
Kate Perry from Boerum Hill

Did you ever do a segment on mis quotes from rock songs ?
Scuse me while I kiss this guy springs to mind.....

Dec. 19 2012 01:57 PM
Gerry Lesk

I love Patricia T. O'Connor on this show, which I love anyway.

I wish 'normalcy' would not give way to 'normality' as quickly as it seems to be doing.

Dec. 19 2012 01:56 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I think the W. C. Fields quote (& epitaph?) is "I'd rather be here than in Philadelphia."

Dec. 19 2012 01:55 PM
Jerry Fried from Montclair, NJ

Martin Luther King's quote:
the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

is actually a "borrowed" quote from the Unitarian minister, Theodore Parker:

"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."—Theodore Parker[26]


Dec. 19 2012 01:55 PM
Angie from Bronx

"Elementary my dear Watson" does not appear in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Dec. 19 2012 01:54 PM
Joan Rubenstein from Somers, NY

Dis WC Fields say First prize in our contest is "one night in Philadelphia" and second prize is Two Nights there" or do I have it wrong?

Joan Rubenstein

Dec. 19 2012 01:52 PM
Stephen from Astoria

I settle many arguments by saying what Groucho Marx, I believe, said:
"Who are you going to believe, me, or your own two eyes?"

Dec. 19 2012 01:52 PM
Mark from NYC

Can someone shed some light on when the line "…except for that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" began to be used?

Dec. 19 2012 01:52 PM
james andrea from Brick, NJ

There is a 'cute' thing online which has Lincoln saying not to believe everything you see on the Internet. I wonder though how many people take it literally.

Dec. 19 2012 01:52 PM
Lee Bartell from NYC

"Common sense is pretty uncommon" is a quote I love, and have always thought it's Mark Twain's. Is it?

Dec. 19 2012 01:49 PM
Alex from Williamsburg

I am a New Yorker and my Californian girlfriend teases me when I say I am waiting on line, as opposed to waiting inline. She wants to know if I am on a slow Internet connection. Is this a regional term?

Dec. 19 2012 01:49 PM

My favorite Dorthy Parkerism....

I love a martini,
Two at the most,
Three I'm under the table,
Four I'm under the host.

Dec. 19 2012 01:47 PM

Hi- When did the word 'gift' become a word? ie, "I gifted my brother some socks." This drives me crazy! Why not say "I gave him some socks"?

Dec. 19 2012 01:45 PM
Peter from Bklyn

I'm not blind to the many, many - and serious - problems, faults, etc. with the internet, but this is a case where 2 folks who are NOT that savvy about the internet - host and guest, wonderful though they both are - are doing just what they attribute to the internet - SPREADING FALSEHOODS.

Wikipedia, too, is not perfect, but you CAN get "mis-information" deleted or corrected there. It certainly affects quotes and their attribution.

And remember, for all that there's a tremendous tendency to copy/paste, thus spreading an inaccuracy, in the "old days" (1970 or so is bordering on paleolithic in some ways), if Barlett's had it wrong, ... end-of-story!

Now, the many non-conformists - WNYC's audience times a million - often have a spokesperson or 2 with both the knowledge and tech-savvy to "set the record straight." Using Google and a phrase like "falsely attributed" often leads to wondrous results!

Dec. 19 2012 01:45 PM

Saying something is not necessarily the same as originating it. Sometimes well known people quote or paraphrase other people.

Dec. 19 2012 01:44 PM
Barbara from Manhattan

'Was it Winston Churchill who said, to a comment that some policy was in the traditionof the British Navy: 'Sir, the traditions of the British Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash.'

Another British quote I've always loved perhaps came from Disraeli. Some opposition MP said, 'I hope, sir, you die of hanging or a loathsome disease.' Disraeli supposedly responded, 'That depends on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.'

Dec. 19 2012 01:44 PM
Brendan from Upper West Side

What about commonly misunderstood or misapplied phrases, such as "the exception that proves the rule" and "First, we kill all the lawyers"?

In particular, the second, a quote from Shakespeare, is often seen as an endorsement of an anti-attorney plan, but in the play from which it is derived it's a recipe for chaos.

Dec. 19 2012 01:43 PM
Ken Campbell from NYC

I use the plural "courts martial." I have heard others use "court martials" and always thought them in error. On NPR this morning a reported combined these into "courts martials." Am I using the preferred form?

Dec. 19 2012 01:43 PM

Please comment on the JFK attributed comment: ask not what your country can do for you. I read it in the Treasured Writings of Khalil Gibran.

Dec. 19 2012 01:42 PM
Mark Hilan

I know how l feel about the current use (misuse) of the word "hater". How do you feel about it? Mark from Brooklyn

Dec. 19 2012 01:42 PM
Stephen from Scarsdale

While I was working in Reading, PA before this past Presidential Election, a string a billboards with conservative minded political quotations sprang up in the area. Multiple billboards had the same misquotation from Abraham Lincoln stating, "You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich."

Dec. 19 2012 01:38 PM

I've heard Patricia disparage the word "hopefully" what's the deal with that?

Dec. 19 2012 01:37 PM
Charlotte from Port Washington, nY

I'd love a coherent explanation of how, when...whatever the word "sanction" can mean allow and disallow or impede...

Dec. 19 2012 01:36 PM
Bernardo from Staten Island

People don't misattribute Polonius' words in his famous soliloquy "Neither a lender nor a borrower be." But they get the tone all wrong. Polonius is a fool, and dramatic irony is ripping at his idea about his relationship with his son. Any other examples?

Dec. 19 2012 01:34 PM
Maggie from nj

PS My favorite quote from who knows where is "If you could see yourself as others see you, you would disappear on the spot."

Dec. 19 2012 01:34 PM
Jay from Hoboken

Over the last 5-10 years, it has become common in speaking to respond to a direct yes/no question beginning with "So..." It even occurs with other guests on this show. Why is this?

"Did your new novel grow from your previous short story on the topic?"
"So... I was researching the life of ...."

Dec. 19 2012 01:33 PM
sarah from nyc

Which way is correct...waiting 'in' line or waiting 'on' line?

Dec. 19 2012 01:32 PM
elizabeth from Long Island City

what about "the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in san francisco"
I heard it was Mark Twain...

Dec. 19 2012 01:32 PM
maggie from nj

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." First heard this in 1997, attributed to Nietsche. Nice but seems unlikely. Today I hear it often.

Any idea where it came from?

Dec. 19 2012 01:32 PM
Lonnie Hanauer from West Orange, NJ

Yogi Berra , like Mark Twain, is a quotation magnet: I think Yogi said:"I didn't say everything they said I said."

Dec. 19 2012 01:30 PM
pliny from soho

it is what it is

Dec. 19 2012 01:28 PM
Tom from Lincoln

This is a quote that I see frequently attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville. "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money." Is this accurate? It does not seem consistent with the time period since congressional appropriations were so small in that era.

Dec. 19 2012 01:15 PM
Allstonian from Boston, MA

I'm troubled by the proliferation of fake quotations being spread on the internet, especially nowadays through Facebook. My two biggest pet peeves are the one attributed to Oscar Wilde )"Be yourself. Everyone else is taken already.") and a couple that are being attributed to A.A. Milne: "Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” and “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.” Both of these come from Winnie the Pooh movies, not from the original books.

Dec. 19 2012 01:02 PM

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