“If you’re going through hell, keep going” is the most common counterfeit. Heard by everyone from presidents to comics, it is sheer fantasy—Churchill wasn’t given to such redundancy. What’s your favorite among these Red Herrings? Mine is the one about golf, which I experienced personally before I wisely gave it up.
Fanatic – Free Lunch
Fanatic: A fanatic is someone who won’t change his mind, and won’t change the subject.
- Often attributed to Churchill or President Truman. “Among quotes I see often, but without a source. I doubt that it’s Truman, or, if he ever said it, that the quotation originated with him.” – Ralph Keyes, editor, The Quote Verifier.
Fear and Courage: Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision. • No attribution.
Feet first: Not feet-first, please!
- Supposedly said in 1962 to the stretcher-bearer after breaking his leg at Monte Carlo, but no attribution can be tracked.
First Thoughts: Distrust first thoughts—they are usually honest.
- Churchill uttered these words in Parliament, 15 July 1948, but he put quote marks around them, and preceded them by saying, “As the cynic has said…”
France: The destiny of a great nation has never yet been settled by the temporary condition of its technical apparatus.
- Not one of Churchill’s quotes but said by him in the Commons, 2 August 1944. Churchill attributed it to Leon Trotsky.
France: God created France for its beauty and Frenchmen to balance it. • No attribution.
Free Lunch: There ain’t no free lunch.
- WSC is alleged to have said only these five words at a commencement ceremony, and then resumed his seat. The Quote Verifier tracks them to various people from Milton Friedman to Merrill Rukeyser. It can also be found in Rudyard Kipling’s American Notes (1891). Kipling reported that San Francisco bars offered food to customers who ordered at least one drink.
Friendship – Genius
Friendship: We [or “He and I”] have been out together in all weathers.
- Allegedly 1906. Said by Louis Botha about Churchill to WSC’s mother. At an imperial conference, having become prime minister of the Transvaal, Botha “so recently our enemy, passed up the hall to his place, he paused to say to my mother, who stood by my side, ‘He and I have been out in all weathers.’ It was surely true.” See My Early Life, 1930, 268.
Gandhi ought to be laid, bound hand and foot, at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.
- Allegedly 4 November 1920, an example of how hearsay becomes a quotation. The usually reliable Duff Cooper reported it (Old Men Forget, 133), and it could be Churchill in one of his “Gandhi moods.” But without corroboration, it appears with quotemarks in an unreadable attack biography; and by an accomplished historian, Sarvepalli Gopal, in “Churchill and India” (Blake & Louis, Major New Assessment, 459). For genuine Gandhi quotes see Chapter 20, People, Gandhi.
Genius: True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information. • No attribution.
German Resistance – Golf
German Resistance: In Germany there lived an opposition which was weakened by their losses and an enervating international policy, but which belongs to the noblest and greatest that the political history of any nation has ever produced. These men fought without help from within or from abroad—driven forward only by the restlessness of their conscience. As long as they lived they were invisible and unrecognisable to us, because they had to camouflage themselves. But their death made the resistance visible.
- Supposedly 1946. Richard Lamb, Churchill as War Leader, 292, 363, contains the only appearances in English of this passage, repeated in German by Rudolf Pechel (Deutscher Wilderstrand, 1947). In a footnote, Lamb says there is doubt that Churchill said the words, but did hold the sentiments, quoting WSC to Walter Hammer of Hamburg, 19 November 1946: “I have had a search made through my speeches…but so far no record can be found of any such pronouncement by me. But I might quite well have used the words you quote as they represent my feelings on this aspect of German affairs.”
Giving Up: Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about. • No attribution.
Golf: A curious sport whose object is to put a very small ball in a very small hole with implements ill-designed for the purpose.
- Allegedly 1915. Manchester, Last Lion I, 213, carries this remark, but the footnote is not dispositive. It does not, contrary to the footnote, appear in the Official Biography’s Companion Volumes. Verdict: Likely to have been uttered by almost any golfer at one time or another.
Government Secrets – Hell
Government Secrets: There is a difference between what endangers the nation and what merely embarrasses the government.
- No attribution. See “What was then in egg is now afoot” in Chapter 12, “Warm Secrecy.”
Greeks Fight Like Heroes: Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.
- Allegedly over Greece’s resistance to German invasion in April 1941. No attribution.
Harlot’s prerogative: Power without responsibility…the prerogative of the harlot through the ages.
- Not Churchill but Rudyard Kipling. Subsequently used by Baldwin in 1931 without reference to Kipling (his cousin).
Health: Half the world’s work is done by people who don’t feel well. • No attribution.
Hebrew Bloodsuckers: The central fact which dominates the relations of Jew and non-Jew is that the Jew is “different.” He looks different. He thinks differently. He has a different tradition and background….Every Jewish moneylender recalls Shylock and the idea of the Jews as usurers. And you cannot reasonably expect a struggling clerk or shopkeeper, paying 40 or 50 percent interest on borrowed money to a “Hebrew Bloodsucker,” to reflect that almost every other way of life was closed to the Jewish people.
- A 1937 draft for a proposed Churchill article by Marshall Diston, a hack writer who wrote draft proposals for Churchill periodical articles. Martin Gilbert reproduced the draft years ago (OB, CV5 Part 5, 670). He showed that Churchill scarcely glanced at it and twice disapproved its publication. The original bore none of his usual copious edits. This did not prevent scandalous claims that these were Churchill’s words.
Hell: If you’re going through hell, keep going. •No attribution.
Heroes – Idiots
Heroes: A nation that fails to honor its heroes soon will have no heroes to honor.
• No attribution. Possibly derived from Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind: In modern society “they have no heroes to emulate.”
Horrible Cow: How shall I deal with this horrible cow? I will sit on the stile, And continue to smile, Which may soften the heart of the cow.
- (Liverpool, 7 May 1924). Not Churchill, since he preceded this by saying, “You all know the famous rhyme about the old man….” WSC was blaming the Liberals for keeping the minority Labour government in power.
Horses: The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.
- Repeatedly attributed to everyone from Woodrow Wilson’s physician to Ronald Reagan. “Clergyman Henry Ward Beecher is one person to whom the thought was attributed in his time. Oliver Wendell Holmes is another…Verdict: Long-time male equestrian wisdom.” –The Quote Verifier, 91. What Churchill did say about horses is an amusing substitute. (See Chapter 32, Tastes and Favourites, Horses.)
Huns: The Hun is always at your throat or at your feet.
- WSC did say this (to Congress, 19 May 1943) but preceded it by saying, “The proud German Army has once again proved the truth of the saying…”
Idiots: I’d rather argue against a hundred idiots than have one agree with me. • No attribution.
Indians – Italians
Indian Rascals, Rogues and Freebooters: Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles.
- Among fake quotes this has the distinction of the most comment among 500 posts on my website, I searched diligently for it, and isolated key word combinations (rascals, etc.), without success. It sounds like his early sentiments toward the Congress Party, but I cannot find attribution. His views on India were far more nuanced. (See Chapter 11, Nations…India.)
Ingratitude towards their great men is the mark of strong peoples.
- Published 1949 in WW2 I, 10, but Churchill himself credited Plutarch with this remark. He was commentating on the discarding of the French war leader Georges Clemenceau after the victory of World War I. See Chapter 20, People, Clemenceau.
Islam: When Muslims are in the minority they are very concerned with minority rights, when they are in the majority there are no minority rights. • No attribution.
Italians: [German Ambassador von Ribbentrop:] “Don’t forget, Mr. Churchill, if there is a war, we will have the Italians on our side this time.”] My dear Ambassador, it’s only fair. We had them last time.
- Alleged aside during WSC’s famous 1937 meeting with the “Londonderry Herr” (see Chapter 20, People, Ribbentrop). A very droll line among fictitious quotes. Sadly, no attribution exists.
Jaw, Jaw – Lies
Jaw, Jaw and War, War: Jaw, jaw is better than war, war.
- Supposedly Washington, 1954. Sir Martin Gilbert, speaking of this remark, reported that Churchill actually said, “Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war.” Four years later, during a visit to Australia, Harold Macmillan said the words usually—and wrongly—attributed to Churchill: “Jaw, jaw is better than war, war.” Credit: Harold Macmillan.
Keep your Mouth Shut: Life is fraught with opportunities to keep your mouth shut. • No attribution.
Kiss a Girl, Climb a Wall: The most difficult things for a man to do are to climb a wall leaning towards you, and to kiss a girl leaning away from you. [Sometimes quoted with an addition: “…and to make an after-dinner speech.”]
- Commonly ascribed, but nowhere in the canon. Recently claimed by religion columnist Marion de Velder, but probably a much older expression.
Liberal and Conservative: If a man is not liberal in youth he has no heart. If he is not conservative when older he has no brain. [Or: When I was a young liberal I thought with my heart; when I grew wiser and conservative I thought with my brain.]
- Among popular quotes on the Web, but not by Churchill.
Liberty: They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
- Circa 1940. Often attributed to Churchill, this remark originated at least as early as 1776 with Benjamin Franklin, though it may date back two decades earlier, to 1755. If Churchill used it, he was quoting Franklin.