All the “Quotes” Churchill Never Said (1: Accept Change-European Union)

All the “Quotes” Churchill Never Said (1: Accept Change-European Union)

Fake Quotes: A-E

In 1686 the Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary described “red her­ring,” a metaphor to draw pur­suers off a track, as “the trail­ing or drag­ging of a dead Cat or Fox (and in case of neces­si­ty a Red-Her­ring) three or four miles…and then lay­ing the Dogs on the scent…to attempt to divert atten­tion from the real ques­tion.” I apply the term to quotes, alleged­ly by Churchill, which he nev­er said—or if he did, was quot­ing some­body else.

Hence my Red Her­rings Appen­dix, updat­ed here­with, for the new, expand­ed edi­tion of my quotes book Churchill by Him­self. Chap­ter ref­er­ences are to that book. “You could fill a book with what Win­ston Churchill didn’t say,” remarked his some­time col­league, Rab But­ler. “It would be almost as long as one made up of gen­uine quotes.” Well, not quite; but fake quotes are a prob­lem. And they keep com­ing at us on that dai­ly cacoph­o­ny of wis­dom and fool­ish­ness, the World Wide Web.

With­out fur­ther ado, here we go. More “red her­rings” will be added here as the list grows. (I do not dig­ni­fy them with quotemarks, since none of these quotes orig­i­nate with Churchill.) See also: “Churchillian Drift.”

Accept – Amusing

Accept or Change: 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.

Agree­ment: If two peo­ple agree on every­thing, one of them is unnec­es­sary. • No attribution.

Amer­i­ca and World War I: Amer­i­ca should have mind­ed her own busi­ness and stayed out of the World War. If you hadn’t entered the war the Allies would have made peace with Ger­many in the Spring of 1917. Had we made peace then there would have been no col­lapse in Rus­sia fol­lowed by Com­mu­nism, no break­down in Italy fol­lowed by Fas­cism, and Ger­many would not have signed the Ver­sailles Treaty, which has enthroned Nazism in Ger­many. If Amer­i­ca had stayed out of the war, all these “isms” wouldn’t today be sweep­ing the con­ti­nent of Europe and break­ing down par­lia­men­tary government—and if Eng­land had made peace ear­ly in 1917, it would have saved over one mil­lion British, French, Amer­i­can, and oth­er lives.

  • Sup­pos­ed­ly 1936. Post­ed on the Inter­net in 2002, these quotes caused a stir. In 1942 a $1 mil­lion law­suit was brought against WSC (who had denounced the quo­ta­tion as fic­tion) by pub­lish­er William Grif­fin of the New York Enquir­er. The quotes and the law­suit were dis­missed when WSC admit­ted to the inter­view but denied the state­ment. See Win­ston Churchill: Myth and Real­i­ty, Chap­ter 14, “Amer­i­ca and World War I.”

Amus­ing and seri­ous: You can­not deal with the most seri­ous things in the world unless you also under­stand the most amus­ing. • No attribution.

Anecdotes – Arboricide

Anec­dotes: Anec­dotes are the gleam­ing toys of House of Com­mons history.

  • No attri­bu­tion. He did call anec­dotes “gleam­ing toys of his­to­ry,” but did not con­fine this to the House of Com­mons. See Chap­ter 5, Anec­dotes and Sto­ries, King Alfred.

Arabs – Bedouins: En masse the Bedu is a dirty, cow­ard­ly cut-throat, with very prim­i­tive pas­sions indeed and about as trust­wor­thy as a King Cobra.

 •  Actu­al­ly the words of an alien­at­ed col­league, Desmond Mor­ton, who said Churchill’s view was entire­ly oppo­site. WSC envi­sioned the “superla­tive­ly coura­geous, cour­te­ous, urbane, mas­cu­line, Arab, ter­ri­ble in his wrath, liv­ing an ascetic life in com­pa­ny with Allah, a camel, a spear and rifle, an Arab mare and a Selukhi dog, jeal­ous of his hon­our above all, like a medieval knight of chival­ry, etc.” Quot­ed in R.W. Thomp­son, Churchill and Mor­ton, 194.

Arbo­ri­cide:  You are guilty of arboricide!

  • Alleged remark to Clemen­tine Churchill, cir­ca 1935, when she cut down a favorite tree. Although Churchill once accused his wife of “arbo­ri­ci­dal mania,” he did not orig­i­nate this word (mean­ing “wan­ton destruc­tion of trees”). The Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary tracks it to H.G. Graham’s Social Life of Scot­land (1899): “the crime of arbo­ri­cide was dis­tress­ing­ly frequent.”

Arctic Convoys – Attlee

Arc­tic Con­voys (Sec­ond World War): The worst jour­ney in the world.

• No attri­bu­tion, despite at least 18 appear­ances on the web all cit­ing Churchill.

Atti­tude is a lit­tle thing that makes a big dif­fer­ence. • No attribution.

Attlee, Clement: An emp­ty car drew up and Clement Attlee got out ….  A sheep in sheep’s cloth­ing! [Some quotes read: “A sheep in wolf’s clothing.”]

  • Cir­ca 1950. Nei­ther quote is Churchill’s, who thought much bet­ter of Clem Attlee, a gal­lant col­league and ser­vant of the crown, he often said. The Quote Ver­i­fi­er tracks the taxi quote back to 1879 when the vic­tim was Sarah Bern­hardt (a notably thin woman), arriv­ing in an emp­ty car­riage. Churchill him­self said the sheep quip “was based on a more point­ed remark he’d once made about some­one else,” The Quote Ver­i­fi­er edi­tor Ralph Keyes wrote: “British quote maven Nigel Rees thought the com­ment might have orig­i­nat­ed with news­pa­per colum­nist J.B. Mor­ton in the 1930s.” Mor­ton (1893–1979) wrote a joke-filled col­umn called “By the Way.” 

Balfour – Birth

Bal­four, Arthur: If you want­ed noth­ing done, Arthur Bal­four was the best man for the task. There was none equal to him.

  • Sup­pos­ed­ly WSC made this crack when Lloyd George said he heard that Arthur Bal­four was “dom­i­nat­ing the League of Nations.” (“Like a rab­bit dom­i­nat­ing a let­tuce” is anoth­er one I can’t track.) The quote has been ascribed to Lord Riddell’s War Diary, but no such words appear there.

Beer Bot­tles, hit them with: …we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills…and we will hit them over the heads with beer bot­tles, which is about all we have got to work with.…

  • Alleged­ly 4 June 1940. The only pub­lished ref­er­ence to this off­hand remark (with Churchill alleged­ly cov­er­ing the BBC micro­phone dur­ing his rebroad­cast of the speech), was by Robert Lewis Tay­lor, Win­ston Churchill: An Infor­mal Study of Great­ness, 223-24, who says it was heard by “one of England’s high­est cler­gy­men, who was present at the stu­dio.” Sir John Colville, who was present, told me he nev­er heard it. Regret­tably, for it is a won­der­ful line, it must be con­sid­ered fictitious.

Behav­iour: I no longer lis­ten to what peo­ple say, I just watch what they do. Behav­iour nev­er lies.No attri­bu­tion.

Birth: Although present on that occa­sion I have no clear rec­ol­lec­tion of the events lead­ing up to it.

  • Man­ches­ter, Last Lion I, 107. Remark­ably, this oft-quot­ed expres­sion can­not be tracked. In the canon it is not among Churchill’s own words, and it appears only in Man­ches­ter, whose notes do not lead the read­er to its origin.

Botswana – Cabinet

Botswana: What is Botswana worth?

  • Alleged­ly posed cir­ca 1960 by Churchill in Par­lia­ment (“£40,000” was the sup­posed answer). But he said noth­ing in Par­lia­ment after retir­ing as Prime Min­is­ter in 1955, and Bechua­na­land did not adopt the name Botswana until 1966.

Bring a Friend if You Have One: [George Bernard Shaw: “Am reserv­ing two tick­ets for you for my pre­miere. Come and bring a friend—if you have one.”] WSC: Impos­si­ble to be present for the first per­for­mance. Will attend the second—if there is one.

  • Alleged­ly over Shaw’s play, “St. Joan,” report­ed by Kay Halle, Irre­press­ible Churchill, 116. Long believed gen­uine, this famous exchange was blunt­ly denied in writ­ing by both Shaw and Churchill. Asked to con­firm it, Shaw said he would sue if he was ever so quot­ed; Churchill agreed with him. (Thanks to Allen Pack­wood, Direc­tor, Churchill Archives Cen­tre, Cambridge.)

Cab­i­net: Recon­struct­ing a Cab­i­net is like solv­ing a kalei­do­scop­ic jig­saw puz­zle.” • Repeat­ed in sev­er­al law mag­a­zines, with­out attribution.

Caring – Cheap and nasty

Car­ing what oth­ers think: When you’re 20 you care what every­one thinks, when you’re 40 you stop car­ing what every­one thinks, when you’re 60 you real­ize no one was ever think­ing about you in the first place.  • No attribution.

Cat­to lying dog­go: Lord Cat­to is lying doggo.

  • Alleged­ly said when unable to con­tact Lord Cat­to. The Inde­pen­dent, 21 Sep­tem­ber 2001, report­ed that this was a sta­ple joke in the finan­cial press. 

Cheap and nasty: Cheap for us and nasty for the enemy.

  • Alleged­ly 1941. Accord­ing to Eliz­a­beth Long­ford in Win­ston Churchill, 1974, Churchill sup­pos­ed­ly referred to the fifty aged destroy­ers loaned Britain by Roo­sevelt as “cheap and nasty,” star­tling Har­ry Hop­kins, Roosevelt’s envoy. Sup­pos­ed­ly Churchill then amend­ed his remark as above. There is no oth­er ref­er­ence to this, and it is not in the Hop­kins Papers at the FDR Library.

Cham­pagne:  [The impe­r­i­al pint bot­tle] is the ide­al size…enough for two at lunch and one at dinner.

[The com­pro­mise of the pint] pleas­es every­one, even the Producer.

  • Report­ed with­out attri­bu­tion by the Dai­ly Express, Decem­ber 2021. Although WSC did favour the impe­r­i­al pint (1/8th of a gal­lon), nei­ther quote car­ries attri­bu­tion to him.

Cigars – Common language

Cig­ars and Women: Smok­ing cig­ars is like falling in love; first you are attract­ed to its shape; you stay for its flavour; and you must always remem­ber nev­er, nev­er let the flame go out. • No attribution.

Clementine’s riposte: [Clemen­tine Churchill spoke for awhile with a street sweep­er.] WSC: What did you talk about for so long? [CSC: Many years ago he was mad­ly in love with me.] WSC: So you could have been the wife of a street sweep­er today. [CSC: Oh no. If I had mar­ried him, he would have been the prime min­is­ter today.] No attri­bu­tion, and Lady Soames said she nev­er heard it in fam­i­ly con­ver­sa­tion. 

Col­lar the Lot [or “Col­lar Them All”]: [Churchill’s com­mand for round­ing up aliens in World War II.]

  • No attri­bu­tion, though it is pos­si­ble he gave such an order. As Nor­man Rose explains (Unruly Giant, 265-66): WSC was “con­vinced that he was pro­tect­ing them from ‘out­raged pub­lic opin­ion’. Some com­mit­ted sui­cide rather than be con­fined in British camps…At first ‘strong­ly in favour’ of expelling all internees from Britain, Churchill lat­er relent­ed. Rather than treat ‘friends as foes,’ would it not be more humane, and prof­itable, to con­script these anti-Nazi refugees into pub­lic ser­vice, or even the Pio­neer Corps, or per­haps as ‘a For­eign Legion’ to serve in Ice­land? Most internees were released with­in eigh­teen months.” 

Com­mon Lan­guage: Britain and Amer­i­ca are two nations divid­ed by a com­mon language.

  • 1940s, also cred­it­ed to Bernard Shaw and Dylan Thomas, but with­out attri­bu­tion. Ralph Keyes in The Quote Ver­i­fi­er sug­gests it orig­i­nat­ed in Oscar Wilde’s “The Can­ter­ville Ghost” (1887): “We have real­ly every­thing in com­mon with Amer­i­ca nowa­days, except, of course, lan­guage.” Ver­dict: adapt­ed Wilde.

Conviction – Cross of Lorraine

Con­vic­tion: One man with con­vic­tion will over­whelm a hun­dred who have only opinions.

  • Not Churchill but jour­nal­ist Alfred George Gar­diner: “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” 

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and lis­ten. •No attri­bu­tion.

Courage and Fear: Courage is a deci­sion, fear is a reac­tion. • No attribution.

Courts: Are the courts func­tion­ing? Thank God. If the courts are work­ing, noth­ing can go wrong.

  • Sup­pos­ed­ly said dur­ing the Blitz (as if he wouldn’t know the answer). No attri­bu­tion or even an approx­i­ma­tion. Like­ly man­u­fac­tured to con­vey Churchill’s relief that the courts were unaf­fect­ed by the bomb­ing. But the words are not real­ly his style.

Cri­sis, good: Nev­er let a good cri­sis go to waste.

  • Said in 2009 by Oba­ma Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. There is no attri­bu­tion to Churchill, who was less cyn­i­cal. See Chap­ter 6, Britain, Empire and Commonwealth…Foreign pol­i­cy of.

Cross of Lor­raine: The heav­i­est cross I have to bear is the Cross of Lorraine.

  • Sup­pos­ed­ly 1943 in ref­er­ence to de Gaulle and the Free French, this remark was actu­al­ly made by Gen­er­al Edward Louis Spears, WSC’s mil­i­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the French in 1939–40.

Cyprus and Greece – Danger

Cyprus and Greece: I think it only nat­ur­al that the Cypri­ot peo­ple who are of Greek descent should regard their incor­po­ra­tion with what may be called their moth­er coun­try as an ide­al to be earnest­ly, devout­ly and fer­vent­ly cher­ished. Such a feel­ing is an exam­ple of the patri­ot­ic devotion—which so nobly char­ac­teris­es the Greek Nation.

  • These words appeared on a set of 1954 Greek postage stamps favor­ing the union of Cyprus with Greece. The quotes are not Churchill’s; no such state­ment is found in Hansard or his speech volumes.

Damn every­body: When­ev­er I can’t sleep I draw the blinds, pull down my eye­shade, say “damn every­body,” and then I go right off.

• With embar­rass­ment, because I’ve quot­ed a vari­a­tion of this once myself, I can­not track any valid attri­bu­tion, though I have no doubt he did that on occasion.

Dan­ger, threat of: One ought nev­er to turn one’s back on threat­ened dan­ger and try to run away from it. If you do that you will dou­ble the dan­ger. But if you meet it prompt­ly and with­out flinch­ing you will reduce the dan­ger by half. • No attri­bu­tion

Defenders of the Peace – de Gaulle

Defend­ers of the Peace: Peo­ple sleep peace­ably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do vio­lence on their behalf. [Alter­na­tive: We sleep safe­ly at night because rough men stand ready to vis­it vio­lence on those who would harm us.]

  • No attri­bu­tion to Churchill, but per­haps semi-George OrwellWik­iquotes reports: “There is no evi­dence that Orwell ever wrote or uttered either of these ver­sions of this idea. They do bear some sim­i­lar­i­ty to com­ments made in an essay that Orwell wrote on Rud­yard Kipling.”

De Gaulle, Charles: Do I regard de Gaulle as a great man? Let us see; he is self­ish, he is arro­gant, he believes he is the cen­tre of the world….You are quite right. He is a great man.” • No attri­bu­tion; pos­si­bly quot­ed in a de Gaulle biog­ra­phy by Julian Jackson.

Democracy – Diplomacy


The best argu­ment against Democ­ra­cy is a five-minute con­ver­sa­tion with the aver­age voter.

  • Com­mon­ly quot­ed with­out attri­bu­tion. Though he some­times despaired of democracy’s slow­ness to act for its own preser­va­tion, Churchill had a much more pos­i­tive atti­tude towards the aver­age vot­er. See Chap­ter 21, Polit­i­cal The­o­ry and Practice…Democracy.

Many forms of Gov­ern­ment have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pre­tends that democ­ra­cy is per­fect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democ­ra­cy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those oth­er forms that have been tried from time to time.…

  • Although these are Churchill’s words in Par­lia­ment, 11 Novem­ber 1947, he clear­ly did not orig­i­nate the famous remark about Democ­ra­cy. Cred­it Churchill as pub­li­cist for an unsourced aphorism.

Dig­ni­ty: I know of no case where a man added to his dig­ni­ty by stand­ing on it.

  • Man­ches­ter, Last Lion II, 25. • Rather than answer Labour attacks, Churchill’s col­leagues sup­pos­ed­ly urged him to “stand on his dig­ni­ty.” No attribution.

Din­ner, Wine and Women: Well, din­ner would have been splen­did if the wine had been as cold as the soup, the beef as rare as the ser­vice, the brandy as old as the fish, and the maid as will­ing as the Duchess.

  • Some­times you can iden­ti­fy man­u­fac­tured quotes intu­itive­ly. WSC would not have stayed for the sec­ond course of such a meal, and his remarks about women were with rare excep­tions gallant.

Diplo­ma­cy is the art of telling peo­ple to go to hell in such a way that they ask for direc­tions.No attri­bu­tion

Dog Days – Dukes

Diver­si­ty: Diver­si­ty is the one true thing we all have in com­mon. Cel­e­brate it every day.

No attri­bu­tion. The words “diver­si­ty” and “cel­e­brate” clear­ly sug­gest fab­ri­ca­tion long after Churchill’s time.

Dog Days: Every dog has his day.

  • 1944, 16 Novem­ber, Ten Down­ing Street, WW2 VI, 611. An old say­ing not orig­i­nat­ed by Churchill, used in his memo to chief of staff Gen­er­al Ismay regard­ing the ship­ping of World War I era long-range heavy guns to bol­ster the inva­sion of Germany.

Doing what’s nec­es­sary: A man does what he must—in spite of per­son­al con­se­quences, in spite of obsta­cles and dan­gers and pressures—and that is the basis of all human moral­i­ty. • No attri­bu­tion.

Drugs: Dear nurse, pray remem­ber that man can­not live by M&B alone.

  • Carthage, 1943. Not found in the canon, though it sounds like him. Churchill delight­ed in the sul­fa drug M&B, and referred to his doc­tors, Lord Moran and Dr. Bed­ford, as “M&B”. For gen­uine quotes about M&B, see Chap­ter 27, Sci­ence and Med­i­cine, Drugs.

Dulles, John Fos­ter: He is the only bull I know who car­ries his chi­na shop with him.

  • No attri­bu­tion, which is not to say WSC didn’t have oth­er bou­quets for the Amer­i­can Sec­re­tary of State. See Chap­ter 20, People…Dulles.

Dukes: A ful­ly equipped Duke costs as much to keep as two Dread­noughts; and Dukes are just as great a ter­ror and they last longer.

  • Sup­pos­ed­ly New­cas­tle, 9 Octo­ber 1909. Some­times attrib­uted to Churchill, actu­al­ly uttered by his ally in the cam­paign to reform the House of Lords, David Lloyd George. Cred­it Lloyd George.

Dundee: Dundee’s grass will grow green through its cob­bled streets, and the vigour of its indus­try will shrink and decay.

  • No attri­bu­tion. Alleged­ly said after los­ing Dundee, his “seat for life,” in the 1922 gen­er­al election. 

Effort – Europe

Effort: Con­tin­u­ous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlock­ing our poten­tial. • No attribution.

Elo­quence ver­sus wis­dom: He spoke with more elo­quence than wis­dom. • No attri­bu­tion.

Ene­mies: You have ene­mies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for some­thing, some­time in your life. • No attri­bu­tion. tracks some­thing sim­i­lar to Vic­tor Hugo: “You have ene­mies? Why, it is the sto­ry of every man who has done a great deed or cre­at­ed a new idea.”

Ene­my, the real: The oppo­si­tion occu­pies the bench­es in front of you, but the ene­my sits behind you. • No attri­bu­tion.

Eng­land and France: Eng­land crum­bles in order, France gets up in dis­or­der. • No attribution.

Europe vs. Amer­i­ca: 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 quotes in order are: “Each time we must choose between Europe and the open sea, we shall always choose the open sea.” And: “Each time I must choose between you and Roo­sevelt, I shall always choose Roo­sevelt” (de Gaulle, Uni­ty, 153).

Euro­pean Union: It is only when plans for unit­ing Europe take a fed­er­al form that we our­selves can­not take part, because we can­not sub­or­di­nate our­selves or the con­trol of British pol­i­cy to fed­er­al authorities.

• Often attrib­uted to Churchill, but actu­al­ly by Antho­ny Eden, in a let­ter to the Euro­pean Coun­cil in Stras­bourg, 6 Decem­ber 1951 (Charm­ley, Churchill’s Grand Alliance, 250). See “EU and Churchill’s Views.”

Fake quotes con­tin­ued in Part 2….

2 thoughts on “All the “Quotes” Churchill Never Said (1: Accept Change-European Union)

  1. “Diver­si­ty is the one true thing we all have in com­mon. Cel­e­brate it every­day!” This is all over the inter­net as a Churchill quote but I can­not find its ori­gin. Can you con­firm the quote and reveal the ori­gin, please?
    There is no attri­bu­tion in the Churchill canon for that line or par­tial com­po­nents of it. The choice of words (diver­si­ty, cel­e­brate) in itself smacks of mod­ern usage. —RML

  2. Which French politi­cian asked Churchill if he were not Eng­lish, would he like to be a French­man. That’s not a quiz but a gen­uine enquiry.

    Sor­ry, no infor­ma­tion. RML

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