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THE PLAYGROUND game of Chinese whispers distorts and misreports what people say. Could the same be true of some famous quotations, we wondered? Mike Gifford thinks the historian St Luke sets the scene with "And there were shepherds washing their socks by night."

John O'Byrne has been dusting the cobwebs out of his hearing aid and reckons that what he really heard was "Rome wasn't built in a bay", "Parking is such sweet sorrow" and "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dame decree". Susan Tomes has Mario Puzo declare to his publisher, "I'll make him an author he can't refuse", Anita Loos intimate to her stockbroker, "Gentlemen prefer bonds", and Emile Zola, pleasantly surprised by his new bathroom, exclaim: "Jacuzzi!"

Colin O'Hare believes what Nelson in fact signalled the fleet was "England expects every man will do his boots up", and that Mrs Beeton advised, "First cash your shares." The dying Goethe reputedly cried, "Mehr Licht!", but Declan Walton knows otherwise; his horse nuzzled his face on his deathbed and Goethe sighed, "The mare licked me!" It was while fishing that Martin Luther King announced, "I have a bream!", says Derek Holmes, and Napoleon called us a nation of sheep-keepers.

Pat Gould has Napoleon, laced into his corset, yelp in pain, "Not too tight, Josephine!" Andrew Duncan has Captain Oates announce, "I'm going outside for some wine." Martin Brown has Mrs Thatcher rebuke a waiter at a banquet for using the wrong cutlery: "The ladle's not for turnips." Colin Archer notes that the previously unrecognised environmentalist Sartre wrote, "Hell is automobiles" (les autos not les autres). Clair Hubble reckons that Beckett foresaw the Internet in writing "Waiting for Go Dot Com."

Ian Hurdley eavesdrops on John Donne introducing his Scottish cousin at a party, "Norman is a Highlander", and on Samuel Pepys dictating a shopping list to his housekeeper: ". . . and soda bread". Tony McCoy O'Grady wonders whether Dr Bowdler got away with cleaning up Richard III's trumpeting for a strumpet in Shakespeare's "A whore! A whore! My kingdom for a whore!" And Maguy Higgs has Queen Victoria rebuke the ardour of a young poet with: "We are not a muse."

Ian Hurdley, Colin O'Hare and Susan Tomes win a Chambers Dictionary of Quotations.

Reincarnation is a growing New Age belief, with the central notion that each rebirth reflects the use or abuse made of the last. We wondered who might be appropriately reincarnated as what, in their next life to come, and why.

Suggestions: Loki.Valhalla@ or Creativity, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL by 1 December.

Results and more Chambers prizes on 7 December. There will occasionally be four prizes, when the quality of contributions merits it. Next week: the EU confetti mountain and how to use it.