Much of my labor in the Churchill Vineyard involves researching quotations “AZ.” My 650-page books and ebooks, Churchill by Himself and Churchill in His Own Words, are the largest sources of Churchill’s philosophy, maxims, reflections and ripostes accompanied by a valid source for each entry. There are 4,150 entries, but a new, expanded and revised edition is coming. It will include a much larger appendix of “Red Herrings”—oft-repeated passages he never said but constantly ascribed to him.
“Red Herrings” are part of what quotemaster Nigel Rees calls “Churchillian Drift.” (Click here for the full description.) Several other Churchill sites use my Red Herrings appendix to furnish their own lists of things Churchill never said. This is all to the good. The more who know the truth, the better for history.
Note: A complete list of Red Herrings to date is posted and regularly updated in four parts on this website. Start by clicking here.
Dozens of readers have sent email attachments from a website called AZ Quotes. They ask: “Are these accurate?” The answer: Not a lot. AZ Quotes is a serious purveyor of “Churchillian Drift.” I don’t think there is a larger batch of fake Churchillisms anywhere. This is no modest collection. To paraphrase Churchill, it has much to be modest about.
AZ doesn’t hide its goal to be quote king of the Internet: “To ensure that we have the biggest quotes collection of all (and this is true), we’re digging up books, newspapers, magazines and interviews—any source that can give us a good quote.” Indeed so! Apparently any source that can “give us a good quote” is fair game to AZ, no matter how wrong. “Digging up” is apposite.
AZ Quotes claims to care about accuracy: “…it’s an important thing for any quote and any quotes website. Every quote we add to our website we pick up manually and then check. Unfortunately, there can be mistakes: if you’ve found any such bogus quotes, report it to us immediately. Immediately, please!” Good grief, where do we start?
Castaway in Churchillian Drift
The alleged Churchill remarks posted by AZ Quotes take up (at this date) fifty-one browser pages. At about twenty-five per page, that’s roughly 1275 in all. Sporadically, attributions are provided—but not often. I would rather have an appendectomy than examine all 1275. I did look at the thirty-four most commonly sent by readers. Of these, three are fully attributable to Churchill.
To be charitable, eight are roughly approximate, but seriously muddled. Some are cobbled from different appearances, or bowdlerized out of all resemblance to Churchill’s actual words. Others are taken from other speakers. To claim Churchill said it makes a quote more interesting. AZ attaches his name to quotations from Charles de Gaulle to Cordell Hull. They must have reasoned: who cares what Cordell Hull said?
Twenty-three of these thirty-four AZ Quotes bear little or no relationship to anything Churchill uttered. They do not track in the ever-widening store of digital references compiled by the Hillsdale College Churchill Project. This file includes 30 million published words by Churchill and in his Official Biography. It adds 50 million more words in books, memoirs and speeches about him. Ultimately, Hillsdale hopes to offer access to this index to students, researchers and scholars on its Churchill website.
I’ve posted my complete updated list of “Red Herrings” as a public service. It may be an antidote to what I’m reading on AZ Quotes. Arrgh! Pass the hemlock.
The Top Ten
AZ Quotes continues to add entries. They seem to post quotations willy-nilly, some perhaps sent by readers, with no attempt to verify. Some duplicate or slightly revise others. Here are the first thirty-four, in the order most often encountered. An asterisk denotes new entries for the next “Red Herrings” appendix in Churchill by Himself. “CBH” denotes current references in that book. Bold face denotes three quotations AZ Quotes actually gets right. (Stand up!)
*1. Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions. ✸ No attribution.
2. You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones to every dog that barks. ✸ From a 1923 speech, but Churchill was quoting someone else. He preceded this by saying, “As someone said…” AZ also mangles the quote. Correctly: “As someone said, you will never get to the end of your journey if you stop to shy a stone at every dog that barks” (CBH 579).
*3. Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision. ✸ No attribution.
4. A nation that forgets its past has no future. ✸ No attribution. Possibly muddled from “…if we open a quarrel between the past and present we shall find that we have lost the future” (18 June 1940, CBH 24).
*5. The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible. ✸ No attribution.
* * *
6. If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart. if you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain. ✸ No attribution. Mangled from the usual erroneous version: If a man is not liberal in youth he has no heart. If he is not conservative when older he has no brain (CBH 576).
7. Socialism is [the] philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery. ✸ Inaccurate. The words through “envy” are from a 1948 speech (CBH 394). The rest are incorrectly transcribed from a 1945 speech (CBH 13).
8. There is nothing government can give you that it hasn’t taken from you in the first place. ✸ Inaccurate. Correctly “…Governments create nothing and have nothing to give but what they have first taken away…” (1903 Speech, CBH 393.)
9. The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. ✸ No attribution. He had far more respect for the average voter (CBH 573).
10. Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ✸ No attribution. Often credited to Lincoln, also without proof. See “Churchill’s Phony Success Quotes” (CBH 580).
The Next Worst
*11. A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest. ✸ No attribution and out of character for Churchill, who was not given to sexist wisecracks. (See also #30.)
12. A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. ✸ No attribution. See “Churchill on the Optimist and Pessimist.” (CBH 578.)
*13. If Britain must chose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea. ✸ Incorrect. Actually referred to choosing between de Gaulle or the Free French and Roosevelt. The correct quotation: “Each time we must choose between Europe and the open sea, we shall always choose the open sea. Each time I must choose between you and Roosevelt, I shall always choose Roosevelt” (de Gaulle, Unity, 153). See “EU and Churchill’s Views.”
*14. One man with conviction will overwhelm a hundred who have only opinions. ✸ Not Churchill but Alfred George Gardiner, quoted by Robert Rhodes James in the introduction to Churchill’s Complete Speeches: “One man with a conviction will overwhelm a hundred who have only opinions, and Mr. Churchill always bursts into the fray with a conviction so clean, so decisive, so burning, that opposition is stampeded” (Complete Speeches vol. I, 12).
15. The main vice of capitalism is the uneven distribution of prosperity. The main vice of socialism is the even distribution of misery. ✸ Inaccurate. Correctly: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” See #7 above (CBH 13).
* * *
16. However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results. ✸ No attribution. See “Mr. Stern, Mr. Trump…” (CBH 580).
*17. You don’t make the poor richer by making the rich poorer. ✸ No attribution.
18. A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. ✸ Not Churchill but Cordell Hull and incorrectly transcribed. Correctly: “A lie will gallop halfway round the world before the truth has time to pull its breeches on.” Also, Churchill would likely have said “trousers” not pants or breeches. See “Galloping Lie” (CBH 476).
*19. Life can either be accepted or changed. If it is not accepted, it must be changed. If it cannot be changed, then it must be accepted. ✸ No attribution.
20. We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. ✸ Inaccurate. Correctly: “Can a people tax themselves into prosperity? Can a man stand in a bucket and lift himself up by the handle?” (1904 speech, CBH 387.
Jackpot: Three out of ten right
*21. I’d rather argue against a hundred idiots than have one agree with me. ✸ No attribution.
22. Islam is more dangerous in a man than rabies in a dog. ✸ Inaccurate. Correctly: “Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy” (CBH 464).
23. In the course of my life, I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet. ✸ Correct! WSC once remarked: “Occasionally he stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened” (CBH 486).
*24. Life is fraught with opportunities to keep your mouth shut. ✸ No attribution.
25. An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last. ✸ Inaccurate. Correctly: “Each one [of the neutral nations] hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last” (Broadcast, 1940, CBH 262).
* * *
26. Everyone is in favour of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they a free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage. ✸ Right again. AZ Quotes is on a roll! (CBH 99.)
27. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen; all know how to die: but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science—the science against which it had vainly struggled— the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome. ✸ Two in a row! This gives us hope, but not for long (CBH 464).
28. You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” ✸ No attribution, but very popular (CBH 574).
*29. I no longer listen to what people say, I just watch what they do. Behavior never lies. ✸ No attribution.
*30. Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds? [Socialite: “My goodness, Mr. Churchill… Well, I suppose… we would have to discuss terms, of course.”] Would you sleep with me for five pounds? [“What kind of a woman do you think I am?”] We’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price. ✸ No attribution. Who invents such stuff?
We shall go on to the end…
31. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” ✸ No attribution (CBH 576).
32. Some people regard private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look on it as a cow they can milk. Not enough people see it as a healthy horse, pulling a sturdy wagon. ✸ Roughly right but the last sentence is invented. Correctly: “Only a handful see it for what it really is—the strong and willing horse that pulls the whole cart along” (1959 speech, CBH 392).
*33. A nation that fails to honor its heroes soon will have no heroes to honor. ✸ No attribution.
*34. It is better to do something than to do nothing while waiting to do everything. ✸ No attribution.
There are fifty more pages of alleged Churchill on AZ Quotes. One day if I have nothing else to do, I will investigate further. Help, anybody!