Everyone knows that Captain Kirk never said, ‘Beam me up, Scotty,’ and Darth Vader never said, ‘Luke, I am your father.’

But do you know the real statements behind these 12 famous misquotes?


Misquote 1: ‘Let them eat cake.’

(attributed to Marie-Antoinette)

What she actually said: ‘It is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness. The King [her hubby Louis XVI, the last king of France] seems to understand this truth.’

From a letter to her Austrian family during the 1775 Flour War, cited by Antonia Fraser, Marie Antoinette, p. 135

It was probably the Spanish Marie-Thérèse, wife of Louis XIV, who was reported to have said, ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,’ meaning, ‘Let them eat brioche,’ (which is a bread not a cake). Jean-Jacques Rousseau mentioned ‘a great princess’ saying it in a letter, 18 years before Marie-Antoinette was even born.

Anti-monarchist propaganda later foisted the comment upon the also-extravagant Austrian Queen consort of France. Source: wikiquote.org and about.com


Misquote 2: ‘Me Tarzan, you Jane.’ (Tarzan, surprisingly)

What he actually said: ‘Jane. Tarzan. Jane. Tarzan.’ This is of earth-shattering importance to ethnologists. I take the quote from the faithful 1918 film starring Elmo Lincoln and Enid Markey, that closely followed the 1912 pulp novel Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Source: filmsite.org and imdb.com


Misquote 3: ‘God doesn’t play dice with the universe.’ (Albert Einstein)

What he actually said: ‘It seems hard to sneak a look at God’s cards. But that He plays dice and uses “telepathic” methods…is something that I cannot believe for a single moment.’ Source: Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything.


Misquote 4: ‘Play it again, Sam.’ (Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca)

What he actually said: ‘You played it for her, you can play it for me…If she can stand it, I can. Play it!’ But Ingrid Bergman did say: ‘Play it once, Sam, for old times’ sake… Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By.’ Source: listverse.com and imdb.com


Misquote 5: ‘I am a jam doughnut’ (John Fitzgerald Kennedy)

What he actually said: ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ was the perfect translation for JFK’s sentiment that he stood in solidarity with the people of Berlin. Only a native of Berlin could sensibly say, ‘Ich bin Berliner’, a literal resident of Berlin.

It is true that a Berliner is also a filled doughnut. But this is not confusing to a German speaker. Would an American hearing, ‘I am a New Yorker’ think the President was claiming to be a culture magazine? The phrase Kennedy used on June 26th 1963, 5 months before he was assassinated in Dallas, was translated for him by a professional interpreter. Source: about.com and historyplace.com


Misquote 6: ‘Money is the root of all evil.’ (the Holy Spirit, through Paul of Tarsus)

What he actually said: ” ριζα γαρ παντων των κακων εστιν η φιλαργυρια ” or ‘The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.’ The ‘love of’ part is a small clause to forget, but it means this ‘root’ is internal not external. Big consequences for the human heart. Source: 1 Timothy 6:10, the Bible; New King James Version, New International Version and others.


Misquote 7: ‘Houston, we have a problem.’ (Apollo 13)

What they actually said: I’m nit-picking about tenses, but it’s good to be accurate. At 55:55:20GET (Ground Elapsed Time, ie T+ 55 hours, 55 minutes and 20 seconds) Jack Swigert said, ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem here.’ From Earth, Charlie Duke asked for confirmation. Then at 55:55:35GET Jim Lovell said, ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a main B bus undervolt.’ It made a cracking film. Source: nasa.gov


Misquote 8: ‘Elementary, my dear Watson.’ (Sherlock Holmes)

What he actually said: While the undying phrase did appear for the first time in the 1929 film The Return of Sherlock Holmes, it never appeared in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books. The nearest is this, from The Crooked Man (1893):

“I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Watson,” said [Holmes]. “When your round is a short one you walk, and when it is a long one you use a hansom. As I perceive that your boots, although used, are by no means dirty, I cannot doubt that you are at present busy enough to justify the hansom.”

“Excellent!” I cried.

“Elementary,” said he.

Source: imdb.com, bestofsherlock.com


Misquote 9: ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses.’ (Karl Marx)

What he actually said: ‘Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.’ Now we just have TV. Source: wikiquote.org


Misquote 10: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ (Edmund Burke)

What he actually said: This famously versatile quote hasn’t, as far as I can tell, been found in Burke’s writings. The nearest thing was ‘When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.’ from a speech given to Parliament entitled, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, on April 23rd 1770. Source: tartarus.org


Misquote 11: ‘The end justifies the means.’ (Niccolò Machiavelli)

What he actually said: ‘[I]n the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result. For that reason, let a prince have the credit of conquering and holding his state, the means will always be considered honest, and he will be praised by everybody because the vulgar are always taken by what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it…’

From The Prince, ch. 18. Source: dustylibrary.com and constitution.org. The Prince is a riot and short enough to make a quick read. I’m sure this Florentine Renaissance Man wished he’d been the originator of the pithy, more famous version of his idea.


Misquote 12: ‘Life is like a box of chocolates.’ (Forrest Gump)

What he actually said: The film’s precise wording is: ‘My momma always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’ That in itself is a complete reinvention of the line in Winston Groom’s 1986 novel [Has anyone ever actually read this?]: ‘Let me tell you this, bein’ an idiot ain’t no box of chocolates.’ Source: nationmaster.com. Pretty different from Tom Hanks’ immortal line, eh?