The top ten: Misquotations
John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting professor at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.
Sunday 12 May 2013
The death of Margaret Thatcher prompted a final run-through of her contributions to the dictionary of quotations, or Wikiquote, as it is known. 'The New York Times' got her most famous words wrong (see no 7), but there was one saying that featured, in slightly different form, in several commentaries: that she regarded New Labour or Tony Blair as her greatest achievement. She never said it; nor did their supposed authors say any of these ...
1. "Because it's there" – Edmund Hillary. It wasn't him, it was George Mallory, another climber, and there's no evidence that he said it, either.
2. "A good day to bury bad news" – Jo Moore, New Labour special adviser, on 9/11. She wrote: "It's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury." Thanks for the suggestion to Philip Cowley.
3. "When the facts change, I change my mind" – John Maynard Keynes. No evidence he ever said it. Sorry. With thanks to Rob Hutton.
4. "Elementary, my dear Watson" – Sherlock Holmes. The character said it in some of the films but Arthur Conan Doyle never wrote it.
5. "A week is a long time in politics" – Harold Wilson. No.
6. "Play it again, Sam" – as every beginner pedant knows, Ingrid Bergman says "Play it, Sam" in Casablanca.
7. "Turn if you like. The lady's not for turning" – Margaret Thatcher. The New York Times quickly corrected it to "You turn if you want to…", but the damage to UK ears was done.
8. "Beam me up, Scotty" – Captain Kirk never said those precise words when the plot of Star Trek required an emergency resuscitation.
9. "Yo, Blair" – George W Bush, when a microphone was left on. Listen to it on the internet and the President clearly says, "Yeah". Thanks to Mark Colman.
10. "We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich" – Peter Mandelson. Not a mis-quotation but a selective one. The rest of the sentence was: "…as long as they pay their taxes."
Next week: The Top 10 political myths. Send suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, to top10 @independent.co.uk
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