Sausages, Laws, and Quotations

Wolfsburg, VW Autowerk, Metzgerei

Sausage Production for the VW Cafeteria, Wolfsburg, 25 January 1973. Found at /r/historyporn

Otto von Bismarck once said, “Whoever loves the law and sausages should never watch either being made.” Wait, no he didn’t. The original quote is “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made,” and is attributed to John Godfrey Saxe, University Chronicle. University of Michigan (27 March 1869) 
Everett Dirksen probably never said “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon it adds up to real money.”
Bill Cosby never wrote the “I’m 73 and I’m Tired” article. He even wrote a rebuttal on his website.
Winston Churchill is reputed to have said, “You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.” According to The Churchill Centre And Museum at the War Rooms London, what Churchill actually said in Scotland, 1908, is:
“What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? How else can we put ourselves in harmonious relation with the great verities and consolations of the infinite and the eternal? And I avow my faith that we are marching towards better days. Humanity will not be cast down. We are going on swinging bravely forward along the grand high road and already behind the distant mountains is the promise of the sun.”
And that’s a much better quote, really, than the original.
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch” is often attributed to economist Milton Friedman, who used it as the title of a 1975 book. However, sci-fi buffs will recognize TANSTAAFL (“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”) from Heinlein’s 1966 novel, “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,” and a still earlier occurrence appears  in the title of a 1949 book by Pierre Dos Utt, “Tanstaafl: A Plan for a New Economic World Order.” [1]
Most of us will remember the party game called “Telephone” or “Chinese Whispers,” depending on which part of the world you live in. People sit in a circle and the first person whispers a message into the ear of the next person. Repetition is not allowed, and the second person must pass the message on. The result is usually incomprehensible or hilarious – “I love Marty Blotz” can come out the other end as “Boiled aardvark kidneys are tasty.”

It used to be that the power of the press belonged to the person that owned one. (There’s another quote for which it’s difficult to pin down the original source, or if it was even said.) With the internet being available to much of the world’s population, anyone can publish anything with or without attribution, which is why so many things get forwarded, re-forwarded, massaged, edited, re-worked, and falsely attributed these days. One of my friends is struggling with countering their 9-year-old’s assertion that “if you see it on the internet, it has to be true,” and in my experience there are reams of adults who apparently believe the same thing, based on the kinds of things I see on Facebook or my inbox.

James Sullivan wrote at Finding Dulcinea, in an article entitled “Misquotes: Searching for Authenticity Online:”

The Internet is fertile ground for the proliferation of misquotes. Pithy quotes find their way into Facebook profiles and Twitter posts, where they multiply across the Web unencumbered by citations and original context. With online sharing an elaborate, electronic game of telephone, genuine quotes get warped in the retelling, leaving end-readers with misquoted material void of context. Surprisingly, the media is often just as guilty as the average Web user.

I highly recommend this article if you care about  your sources – the end of the article gives some excellent ways of verifying whether a quote has been properly attributed or not.

Even if you care, it’s possible to make mistakes – as a famous statesman once pointed out,



The Old Wolf has spoken (and you can quote me on that.)

[1] New York Times, “Quote… Misquote

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