Fake Quotes continued..
A reader suggests that the list of “Red Herring” fake Churchill quotes be subdivided. We should separate quotes he actually said, but borrowed from someone else, from quotes simply invented out of whole cloth. Not sure we have much to learn from that. First, while I try to name the originator of a quotation not by Sir Winston, I don’t always succeed. Second, my brief extends only to disproving that the words originated with Churchill. If you have reliable attribution identifying the true author of any quotes here, please let me know.
In 1686 the Oxford English Dictionary described “red herring” as 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.” That is what these misquotes all have in common: they distract or divert us from what Churchill really did originate. Chapter references are to Churchill by Himself, with over 4000 genuine, attributed quotations in thirty-four chapters or categories. The next edition will contain over 5000. Anyway, that’s my pitch and I’m sticking with it.
Lies – Looking Ahead
Lies: There are a terrible lot of lies going about the world, and the worst of it is that half of them are true.
- Churchill used these words on 22 February 1906, but quickly explained that they were the remark of a “witty Irishman.”
A lie will gallop halfway round the world before the truth has time to pull its breeches on.
- Among quotes commonly ascribed to Churchill (who would have said “trousers,” not “breeches”), this was actually written by Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, Cordell Hull (Memoirs I, 220).
Living and Life: You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.
- Reiterated in many sources including television ads. An old saw, origin unknown, put in Churchill’s mouth to make it more interesting.
Living Dog, Dead Lion: A living dog is better than a dead lion.
- Originally Ecclesiastes 9:4: “But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.” In HESP II, 95, WSC quotes it from John Dudley, First Duke of Northumberland, before being executed by Mary Tudor in 1553.
Looking Ahead: It is always wise to look ahead—but difficult to look further than you can see. • No attribution.
Looking Backward – MacDonald
Looking Backward: The further backward you look, the further forward you can see. [Or: The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.]
- Circa 1944, commonly ascribed to WSC, even by HM The Queen (Christmas Message, 1999). What Churchill actually said was “The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.” See Chapter 2, Maxims.
MacDonald, Ramsay: After the usual compliments, the Prime Minister [MacDonald] said [to Lloyd George]: “We have never been colleagues, we have never been friends—at least, not what you would call holiday friends—but we have both been Prime Minister, and dog doesn’t eat dog. Just look at this monstrous Bill the trade unions and our wild fellows have foisted on me. Do me a service, and I will never forget it. Take it upstairs and cut its dirty throat.”
- 28 January 1931 in Halle, Irrepressible Churchill, 114. According to Kay Halle, this was “an imaginary conversation dreamed by WSC between Ramsay MacDonald and David Lloyd George, directed at MacDonald because of the debate on the Trades Disputes Act.” Halle’s version begins with “We have never been colleagues” and substitutes “the monstrous Bill” for “this monstrous Bill.” No other attribution.
Martinis – Metaphors
Martinis: I like to observe the vermouth from across the room whilst I drink my Martini.
- No attribution. Pure invention, since WSC did not like cocktails. He particularly eschewed Martinis with liberal infusions of vermouth, mixed by President Roosevelt. He was once observed dumping one in a nearby flowerpot.
Marx Brothers: You are my sixth favourite actor. The first five are the Marx Brothers.
- Reported in at least one Churchill quotes book, but no sign of this comment appears in the literature. WSC enjoyed the Marx Brothers; for what he did say about them, see Chapter 32, Tastes and Favourites, Marx Brothers.
Metaphors: How infinite is the debt owed to metaphors by politicians who want to speak strongly but are not sure what they are going to say.
- Stated by the Sunday Times, 22 October 2022. No attribution.
“Mettle” – Mussolini
“Mettle”: [A junior MP: “What is the greatest quality in a leader?”] WSC: “Mettle.”
- Supposedly a one-word response to a perennial question. Although “mettle” was a favorite word, this is unsubstantiated. It was credited without attribution to Nigel Nicolson, editor of Harold Nicolson’s diaries, but it does not appear in those volumes.
Achievement is not last, disappointment is not deadly: It is the mettle to proceed with that matters.
- Posted as a Churchill quotation by Quotefancy.com. As close as we come to the “mettle” response above, but no attribution can be found, either for the full phrase or any components of it.
Montgomery, Field Marshal Bernard: In defeat, indomitable; in victory, insufferable. [Or: Indomitable in retreat, invincible in advance, insufferable in victory.]
- Widely bruited about, but not in Churchill’s canon. Likely conjured up lately from “Indomitable in victory, insufferable in defeat,” by American football coach Woody Hayes. For a number of genuine remarks see Chapter 20, People, Montgomery.
The Field Marshal lived up to the finest tradition of Englishmen. He sold his life dearly.
- WSC allegedly said this in 1958 when advised that Monty’s memoirs were earning more than his History of the English Speaking Peoples. It seems unlike Churchill. “Sold his life dearly” comes up only once in the canon, when Alanbrooke opined that Churchill would have done so if ever backed up against a wall by invading Germans.
Mussolini’s Consolation: [Son-in-law Duncan Sandys: “Hitler and Mussolini have an even greater burden to bear, because everything is going wrong for them.”] Ah! But Mussolini has this consolation, that he could shoot his son-in-law!
- Refers to the execution by firing squad of Count Galeazzo Ciano (1903-1944). This non-quote originated in newspaper proprietor Cecil King’s war memoir,With Malice Toward None (1970). But King said it was “obviously concocted by some wag.” Another version involves WSC’s son-in-law Vic Oliver, whom he disliked, asking which war leader Churchill most admired.
Naval Tradition – Nuisenza
Naval tradition: Don’t talk to me about naval tradition. It’s nothing but rum, buggery [sometimes “sodomy”] and the lash.
- In 1955 WSC denied this, but Harold Nicolson quotes him on 17 August 1950: “Naval tradition? Monstrous. Nothing but rum, sodomy, prayers and the lash.” However, the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations lists “Rum, bum, and bacca” and “Ashore it’s wine women and song, aboard it’s rum, bum and concertina” as 19th century naval catchphrases. Verdict: not original to Churchill.
Never Give In [Three-word speech. Also sometimes: “Never give up.”]
- Harrow School, 29 October 1941. Often represented as a three-word speech which Churchill allegedly made, and then sat down. This is incorrect. The complete quotation is in Chapter 2, Maxims, Perseverance.
Never quit: Never, never, never quit! [Also sometimes quoted as “Never, never, never give up!”
- Misquotations of “Never give in – never, never, never, never, except to convictions of honour and good sense.”
Nuisenza: It is a nuisenza to have the fluenza.
- Dated 25 October 1943 in WW2 V, 279. Represented in places as a Churchillism, this was actually Roosevelt writing to Churchill.
Oats and Sage – Organ grinder
Oats and Sage: The young sow wild oats, the old grow sage.
- Constantly ascribed to Churchill, it is not among his published words. Henry James Byron (1835–84) in “An Adage” wrote: “The gardener’s rule applies to youth and age; When young ‘sow wild oats,” but when old, grow sage.”
Opportunity: To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.
- Commonly attributed, but neither the quotation nor parts of it can be found. That it is manufactured is suggested by its use of “finest hour” from WSC’s famous speech of 18 June 1940, which he would have been unlikely to repeat in so offhand a context. Verdict: apocryphal Churchill.
Organ grinder and monkey: Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.
• Badly garbled from what Churchill said about Hitler and Mussolini: “The organ grinder still has hold of the monkey’s collar.” See Chapter 20, People, Mussolini.
Palestinians – People
Palestinians: It is crazy to help the [Palestinian] Arabs, because they are a backward people who ate nothing but camel dung.
- Reported only by Michael Makovsky, in Churchill’s Promised Land, pp. 168-69 as a remark to Malcolm MacDonald in re the 1939 Palestine White Paper. Makovsky added, “these might not have been Churchill’s exact words.” Verdict: insufficiently established. (Churchill’s one verified reference to “camel dung” is an amusing story. See Part 2 Comments.)
Past, remembering the: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
• Famous among quotes by George Santayana (1863-1952) in The Age of Reason (1905). Churchill shared the sentiments, but never repeated the exact words.
People Will Put You Out: [Lord Shawcross: “We are the masters at the moment, and not only at the moment, but for a very long time to come.”] Oh no you’re not. The people put you there and the people will put you out again.
- Supposedly 1946 with the Labour Party newly in power. Shawcross is often misquoted as saying, “We are the masters now.” He maintained that he spoke as above, but Churchill’s retort is not established and likely apocryphal.
Persistence: Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking our potential.
• No attribution. Reported August 2008 in Investor’s Business Daily.
Pessimist and Optimist: A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
• No attribution. For what he did say about them, see Chapter 5, Anecdotes and Stories…Optimists and Pessimists.
Planning – Poison
Planning: Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential. • No attribution.
Plan to fail: People who fail to plan, plan to fail.
• No attribution. For what he did say, see “Planning” in Chapter 21, Political Theory and Practice and Chapter 22, Politics: The Home Front.
Poison in Your Coffee: [Nancy Astor: “If I were married to you, I’d put poison in your coffee.”] If I were married to you, I’d drink it.
- Blenheim Palace, circa 1912, Balsan, 162; Sykes, 127. Martin Gilbert (In Search of Churchill, 232) concluded that the author was F.E. Smith, Lord Birkenhead, “a much heavier drinker than Churchill, and a notorious acerbic wit”. But Fred Shapiro (Yale Book of Quotations) says the riposte dates back even farther, to a joke line in the Chicago Tribune of 3 January 1900: “‘If I had a husband like you,’ she said with concentrated scorn, ‘I’d give him poison!’ ‘Mad’m,’ he rejoined, looking her over with a feeble sort of smile, ‘If I had a wife like you I’d take it.’” Verdict: F. E. Smith, giving new life to an old wisecrack.
Politics – Prepositions
Politics: Politics is the art of inclusion, not exclusion.
• No attribution. He did say, “Politics is the art of looking forward…” See Chapter 2, Maxims…Politics.
Positive Thinker: The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible. • No attribution.
Power: Power is a drug. Who tried it at least once is poisoned forever. • Reported by tribuneindia.com, 2020. No attribution.
Prepositions, Ending Sentences in: This is the kind of pedantic nonsense up with which I will not put. [Sometimes rendered as “tedious nonsense” or “offensive impertinence.”]
- Per Benjamin Zimmer, originally attributed to WSC by The New York Times and Chicago Tribune, 28 February 1944. Fred Shapiro (Yale Book of Quotations) writes: “The Times…made one change that seems to undercut Churchill’s humor completely: they ‘fixed’ the quote so that there are no fronted prepositions. The Wall Street Journal, 30 September 1942, quotes an undated article in Strand Magazine: When a memorandum passed round a certain Government department, one young pedant scribbled a postscript drawing attention to the fact that the sentence ended with a preposition, which caused the original writer to reply that the anonymous postscript was ‘offensive impertinence, up with which I will not put.’”
Principle – Public Schools
Principle: Never stand so high upon a principle that you cannot lower it to suit the circumstances. • An all-purpose bon mot put in WSC’s mouth to make it more interesting; no attribution.
Prisoner of War: A prisoner of war is a man who tries to kill you and fails, and then asks you not to kill him. • No attribution.
Profits and Losses: Socialists think profits are a vice. I consider losses the real vice. • No attribution.
Public [Private] Schools: A public school education equips a boy for life and damns him for eternity.
• No attribution. (In Britain, a public school is a private prep school.)
Rich and Poor – Sex
Reputation: The most important man in the world, when he dies, leaves as lasting an impression as a fist withdrawn from a bucket of water. • No attribution.
Rich and Poor: You don’t make the poor richer by making the rich poorer. • No attribution.
Risk, Care and Dream: Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible.
- No attribution. Quoteworld.org credits Claude Thomas Bissell (1916–2000), Canadian author and educator.
Rough men stand ready: See “Defenders of the peace,” Part 2.
Saving: Saving is a very good thing, especially if your parents have done it for you. • No attribution.
Saying and Doing: I no longer listen to what people say, I just watch what they do. Behaviour never lies. • No attribution.
Schooldays: At Harrow they taught us not to piss on our hands. • No attribution.
Sex: It gives me great pleasure.
- At The Other Club, a member drawn at random would chalk a word on a blackboard. A second member, chosen by lot, had to make an impromptu speech about it. This is supposedly Churchill’s speech on the word “sex.” No attribution is found.