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

Health & Social Teacher

Competitive & Flexible : Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobRandstad Educati...

***SEN British Sign Language Teacher***

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Successful candidate should hav...

Early Years and Foundation Stage Primary Teachers in Blackpool

Negotiable: Randstad Education Preston: Early Years and Foundation Stage Prima...

Vendor Services Manager (IT) - Central London

£50000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Vendor Services Manager (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp  

Oscar Pistorius sentence: Judge Masipa might have shown mercy, but she has delivered perfect justice

Chris Maume
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album