Top 10 Famous Historic Misquotes

Throughout history, famous people have been often misquoted and their misquotes have been the words generations have lived by. This can have happened for a variety of reasons: some originals quotes may frankly have been – downright clumsy. Others don’t seem to match the style of language expected from a person. Some other times, the misquotes were attributed to a particular person simply for propaganda reasons!

Following is a list of the most famous, well known quotes – which are, in actuality.. misquoted!


Quote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (“Je désapprouve ce que vous dites, mais je défendrai à la mort votre droit à le dire”)

What Voltaire actually said was, ‘Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too.’ – From Voltaire’s Essay on Tolerance. Honestly, the two quotes don’t really seem to have the ‘same’ ring as each other.

The misquote in actuality comes from a 1907 book called Friends of Voltaire by Evelyn Beatrice Hall.


George Washington

Quote: “I cannot tell a lie. It was I who chopped down the cherry tree.”

Washington, in reality, never said this! In fact, the story was first told in the 1800s by the biographer Parson Weems. In Weem’s book, the tree was NOT chopped down.

Edward Murphy

Quote: “Anything that can go wrong, will” (Murphy’s Law)

Edward Murphy sure didn’t say that. What he is mostly likely to have said would something in the neighborhood of: ‘If there’s more than one way to do a job and one of those ways will result in a disaster, then somebody will do it that way anyway?’

Absolutely, Mr. Murphy!

Mark Twain

Quote: “The only two certainties in life are death and taxes.”

This, seems to be more of a misattribution problem than that of misquotation. Mark Twain wasn’t really the one who had coined this phrase, it was actually coined by Edward Ward in his 1724 ‘Dancing Devils’ where he wrote ‘Death and Taxes, they are certain.’

Then then there was Christopher Bullock had written in his ‘Cobbler of Preston’ (1716), ‘’Tis impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes!’

William Shakespeare

Quote: “Gild the lily”

The above is a misquote from Shakespeare’s King John. The real quote however goes something like this – ‘To gild refined gold, to paint the lily.’


Niccolo Machiavelli

Quote: “The ends justify the means.”

Well, at the most, this is a very liberal interpretation of what Machiavelli really wanted to say – which was – ‘One must consider the final result.’



Winston Churchill

Quote: “The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash.”

Churchill definitely didn’t say that at all – but his assistant, Anthony Montague Brown did. Funny story – Churchill however DID wish he had said it!


Marie Antoinette

Quote: “If they have no bread, let them eat cake!” (“S’ils n’ont plus de pain, qu’ils mangent de la brioche.”)

This is probably the most unfortunate quote that has been attributed to Mary Antoinette and for a more malicious reason than a simple error of misquotation.

The Queen has been much maligned over this quote and believe it not, she didn’t even say it! It was in reality from the book of Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in which he had said, ‘I recalled the make-shift of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread and who replied, ‘Let them each brioche!’.’

The attribution was most likely a result of the strong anti-royal propaganda during an absolutely troubled time in the French history.

Paul Revere

Quote: “The British are coming!”

Wikipedia suggests that Revere’s mission depended on secrecy and the countryside was filled with the British Army patrols; also most colonial residents at the time considered themselves British. So the quotation is more likely based on (though not taken verbatim from) the later famous poem, ‘Paul Revere’s Ride.’


Philip Sheridan

Quote: “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

Allegedly, what General Sheridan really said was something on the lines of, ‘The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.’ He actually denied saying anything remotely like this. Who’s to know!


Leave a Reply