Mark Twain remains the most frequently quoted American author, which means he is also the most frequently misquoted author. We see these misattributed quotes on Facebook, in blogs and tweets, and even in print. Dozens of quote sites on the Internet continue to post them despite noble attempts to set the record straight.
But, there is hope. One site, TwainQuotes.com, edited by Barbara Schmidt, goes to the trouble of verifying quotes as authentic and even alphabetizes them by topic. The Mark Twain Project lets researchers peruse Twain's letters and autobiography using keyword searches to track down sources. The University of Virginia hosts a site that also allows keyword searches of many of Twain's works. And Twain scholar R. Kent Rasmussen has published a thoroughly researched and reliable source, The Quotable Mark Twain.
When a good Mark Twain quote is needed to punch up a paper or spice up a speech, it is possible to verify it with a credible source.
On the popular television series, The Office, boss Michael Scott's go-to expression was, "That's what she said." Although several T-shirt websites claim Mark Twain said it first, there is no evidence he did, and certainly not in the context implied by Steve Carrell's Michael Scott. Technically, it can be argued that one of Twain's characters said it in "Ten Thousand Years Among the Microbes" or in "Those Blasted Children" or as "That is what she said" in The Mysterious Stranger -- but, again, not in the context suggested.
Following are 20 quotes frequently misattributed to Twain. No one can prove he ever spoke them, nor is there any evidence he wrote them. Fact-checking has never been easier, so why not verify before repeating? Remember -- friends don't let friends misquote Mark Twain.
A few examples of quotes Mark Twain DID NOT say:
1. "I wrote a long letter because I didn't have time to write a short one." (The actual sentiment was expressed by French philosopher Blaise Pascal.)
2. "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." (Even Twain has misattributed. He originally credited Disraeli with this quote, but it appears to have been said by Leonard H. Courtney.)
3. "I am not an American. I am the American." (Twain was actually quoting his friend Frank Fuller.)
4. "Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first."
5. "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."
6. "It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt."
7. "The secret of getting ahead is getting started."
8. "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education."
9. "It's not the size of the dog that's in the fight, but the size of the fight that's in the dog."
10. "Golf is a good walk spoiled."
11. "The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco."
12. "Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over."
13. "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."
14. "Be careful of reading medical magazines; you might die of a misprint."
15. "Never pick a fight with someone who buys his ink by the barrel."
16. "Denial is not just a river in Egypt."
17. "You should never trust a man who has only one way to spell a word."
18. "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes."
19. "A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining and wants it back the minute it begins to rain."
And perhaps the most commonly misattributed quote is this one that has been making the rounds on the Internet since the mid-1990s and has even been included in numerous books:
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
Mark Twain did NOT say that.
The quote belongs to H. Jackson Brown's mother. See page 13 in Brown's 1991 book: P.S. I Love You: When Mom Wrote, She Always Saved the Best for Last.
Sadly, Google search results for "Mark Twain quotes" list popular sites that misattribute hundreds of quotes -- no sources provided. In all matters, my dad used to say, "You have to consider the source." Agreed. Verify veracity.
As Mark Twain did say in Following the Equator (1897), "It is my belief that nearly any invented quotation, played with confidence, stands a good chance to deceive."
That's what he said.
Mark Twain Quotes
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in 1871, Mark Twain was born as Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri, U.S. He was a writer, and lecturer. He was called the “greatest American humorist of his age.” He wrote the now classic novels, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
He wrote some great stuff that is still read by millions today. He also had some great quotes that continue to live on because of the wisdom in them. Mark Twain was a funny, witty, and wise guy. I hope the below quotes will astonish, enlighten, and amuse you.
“I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”
We walk around all our lives thinking about things that will never happen. We worry, dread, and fear what hasn’t happened and what probably never will.
Our minds are out of control. Our heads are filled with negative thoughts that have no bearing in reality, even if we think they do.
Eliminating bad thoughts is possible, through methods such as EFT and The Work. It’s not easy, but worth it.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
We want safety. We want to be secure, but the best life experiences come when we drop those notions and go after what we truly want, whether it feels safe or not.
I’ve battled with this myself, and I often stop myself from doing things because it feels unsafe. I worry too much about the future.
In reality, we can’t know what the future will bring. Even if you have millions in the bank, you may lose it tomorrow. Not even the wealthiest on this planet are secure.
“When people do not respect us we are sharply offended; yet in his private heart no man much respects himself.”
Imagine that something negative happened to you. Maybe someone said something to you that you thought was wrong.
How often do you replay what happened over and over and over again when it’s all over?
We disrespect ourselves by replaying bad thoughts in our mind, which leads to feeling bad, and treating everyone (including ourselves) around us badly.
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
Going after your dreams can feel like an overwhelming task, but that’s because you’re trying to visualize something in your head that cannot be visualized.
Mark Twain is right on in breaking things into small pieces. It works because you can hold an image in your head of what the end result looks like. Instead of thinking “I need to start an online business,” a better thought would be “I need to start a blog.”
That is, if you want to go down that route. Break things down, and simplify!
“When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear.”
A good and funny quote, but to me it sends the message to not make decisions when you’re angry. People are foolish when they are angry. They snap at others and only create more trouble in their life. Next time you’re angry, either use methods such as The Work or EFT, like I mentioned above, or just count to four, or better yet, ten.
Calm down, and sleep on your decision.
“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living; the world owes you nothing; it was here first.”
Have you ever felt like you deserved something, but didn’t get it? I know I certainly have. That thought does us no good, even if we think we did deserve whatever it is that we didn’t get. It keeps you stuck instead of moving forward. So what if things didn’t go perfectly? You adjust and you keep on going.
Who knows, maybe that setback wasn’t a setback after all. The negative events in my life have a tendency to blossom into positive ones.
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
Successful people aren’t fearless; no one is. It’s easy to believe that if you got rid of your fears, everything would be fine, but that’s just an excuse for not getting started. You will always have a smidgen of fear when diving into the unknown. Don’t let it stop you; instead use it as fuel to keep going.
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