Natalie Haynes: Credit where it isn't due

Share
Related Topics

A quotation from Martin Luther King appeared on Twitter on Monday afternoon and swiftly went viral. It was soon being posted en masse on every social networking site. Those who felt disquiet at the jubilant response to Bin Laden's death could now express their emotions with a cast-iron quote: "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy." There was only one problem – King didn't say it.

In fact, the quote originated with a 24-year-old woman called Jessica Dovey, who teaches English in Japan. She posted it on Facebook, alongside a quote from King. Then the magician Penn Jillette (the one from Penn and Teller who speaks), cut and pasted her quote and the King one together, and somehow, they became mangled into one. He put it on Twitter, and soon Martin Luther King's quote-that-wasn't was being read and repeated across the globe. No one thought to ask who King's enemy might have been, or whose death might have prompted this remark, because it was just too neat.

It's the latest in a long line of fake quotes which gain real currency because they are used in apposite circumstances. In the autumn of 2008, when the financial crisis was at its nadir, a quote from Marcus Tullius Cicero started doing the rounds, which seemed to suggest that everyone's favourite pompous orator had somehow predicted the correct response to over-reaching banks, more than 2,000 years after his death: "The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt." It took a history professor, John H Collins, to point out that the quote came from a novel about Cicero written in 1965, and not from Cicero at all.

And it isn't just an internet invention, either: Voltaire has long been credited with promising that he might disapprove of what you say, but he'd defend to the death your right to say it. And perhaps he would have done. But he didn't ever say so: the quote came from Evelyn Beatrice Hall, paraphrasing in her book, The Friends of Voltaire. And while you can blame the internet for a lot, it wasn't around in 1906, so its conscience is clear on this one.

The oldest misquote I can think of must be Julius Caesar's last words. Everyone knows they were "Et tu, Brute", right? That's what he says in Shakespeare, and Shakespeare must have been quoting because it's Latin, and that's what Caesar spoke. But actually, Caesar's last words were in Greek: "Kai su, teknon?" – "Even you, my child?" His final words were full of Oedipal overtones (he was much older than Brutus, and had been having an affair with the latter's mother for some time), which have been entirely lost behind the Shakespeare version.

So if even Shakespeare made up or misattributed quotes, why shouldn't the rest of us? It used to be the case that we simply assumed that pretty much everything witty was said by Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker, that everything touching was said by Dr King or Gandhi, and that everything else was said by Winston Churchill. Now, we're rather more inventive: by yesterday afternoon, the Twitterverse was crediting King with having said all kinds of things, including a belief that fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. He didn't say that, either, though. They are, of course, the wise words of the tiresome Star Wars muppet, Yoda.

At last – something that's worth getting drunk on

If you have been to Paris in recent years, you might have thought that what was missing from the whole experience – once you'd got past the Eiffel Tower and the Arc De Triomphe and that pyramid that has something to do with Dan Brown at the Louvre – was some really good, mind-altering green booze. How is a person supposed to channel their inner Toulouse-Lautrec when they have neither the talent, the tiny legs nor a glass of wormwood-distilled absinthe? Well, worry no longer, because the French government has finally voted to legalise the green fairy, and the 100-year-old ban will be overturned any day now.

I am no expert on absinthe, having drunk it only once at the behest of a retired children's television presenter (it's always the quiet ones – the quiet ones that can make things out of cardboard and sticky tape). But I think this can only be a good thing. For too long we have decried the behaviour of young people and their alcopops, even though absinthe has been on sale in the rest of Europe since the 1980s.

It turns out that they were being positively restrained. Time for some proper, 70 per cent proof alcohol, entirely designed for artists, writers, and those who consider sanity (or in Van Gogh's case, an ear) optional.

Why read the script before seeing the film?

At what point does being a film fan morph into being someone who hates the very films you theoretically love?

This question arose last week, when a stolen copy of the script of next year's summer blockbuster, The Avengers, went on sale on the net. Several pages of the script appeared online, to prove that the script was genuine.

The rumour-mill went wild: the film had shut down filming for re-writes, the stolen scenes had been cut from the movie, and so on. There wouldn't be a reason to steal these scripts if people weren't willing to buy them in order to read them.

But there's a lot more to a film than its script, so who would want to read a script before they saw the film? Only someone who values knowing what happens in a movie more than the experience of seeing it, which is like not being a film fan at all.

www.nataliehaynes.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup