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Who Said It? Misattribution Plagues Quotations

Terry Ballard
"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." An accurate quotation, paraphrase, or misattribution to Twain?

Gleaning the wisdom of those who have come before us is a practice as old as time, but in quoting the geniuses of the past, we often misattribute their wisdom. Pat O'Conner, author of Woe is I, says that a few people in particular get a disproportionate number of quips attributed to them.

"People who are known to be wits, and if they're famous, often an anonymous quote will be pinned on them," says O'Conner. "For example, Twain is often credited with saying, 'Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.' Well no, he didn't say that."

O'Conner covers some of these misattributed quotations in Origins of the Specious, a book she co-authored with her husband. She says there are some dead giveaways of misattribution.

"If you check out a quote and it's attributed to more than one person, probably neither one of them said it."

In this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with O'Conner and with listeners about quotations.

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa