AZ Quotes: A Cornucopia of Things Churchill Never Said

AZ Quotes: A Cornucopia of Things Churchill Never Said

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.

AZ Quotes

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. Click here.

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!

9 thoughts on “AZ Quotes: A Cornucopia of Things Churchill Never Said

  1. I am get­ting more and more con­cerned with try­ing to deter­mine what is truth and what is fic­tion or out and out lies. If I actu­al­ly was there to hear Churchill speak, I would know what he said or didn’t say but I was not so I have to rely on what oth­ers say Churchill said. To be truth­ful, I have lost inter­est in what cer­tain peo­ple alleged­ly said but I remain inter­est­ed in what was said whether it is as was or man­gled. The con­tent of the say­ing is what mat­ters most, in my opin­ion, not who said it. All I real­ly care about is what God said and con­tin­ues to say as such is what affects my life now and what will affect my eter­nal life to come. So, my advice is to take what you see and hear with a grain of salt as both can be altered but seri­ous­ly con­sid­er the actu­al word­ing no mat­ter who said it or how true it is in what was orig­i­nal­ly said and do with such as you think best.

    I cer­tain­ly share your con­cern with sort­ing out truth from false­hood. Sir Win­ston Churchill is one of the most quot­ed, mis­quot­ed, rep­re­sent­ed, mis­rep­re­sent­ed, under­stood, mis­un­der­stood, and tak­en out of con­text states­men of the past cen­tu­ry. It there­fore seems to be worth my time and resources to iden­ti­fy­ing what he did not say using the resources I have devel­oped over 40 years. At any rate, this is what I try to do. What Churchill actu­al­ly DID say or write is well doc­u­ment­ed in his books and speech­es. And that, as he wrote, he sub­mit­ted “with con­sid­er­able trep­i­da­tion to the judge­ment or the clemen­cy of the pub­lic.” —RML

  2. Thank you! This is impor­tant! I have gone to az quotes sev­er­al times and i final­ly became curi­ous about their lack of cita­tions and lack of spe­cif­ic dis­cus­sion about it on their site.

  3. Greet­ings.

    I wish to thank you for writ­ing this arti­cle. I found it quite help­ful AND enter­tain­ing. Please insert var­i­ous words of praise here, as my brain has sud­den­ly decid­ed that I’m done communicating. 

    Thank you, again. I appre­ci­ate the effort you put into this! 


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