Nelson Mandela and Marianne Williamson

They Didn’t Say That! 15 Quotes Frequently Misattributed to Famous Writers


Ever taken credit for something you didn’t actually do or say? Well then this is the listicle for you! While the internal has played a pivotal role in introducing scores of new readers to worthy and intelligent writers and thinkers, it has also had the unfortunate side effect of perpetuating the misattribution of some of our favorite quips and phrases. We’d offer up a Gandhi quote here, but we are honestly just too jaded to try. 


  1. “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”


Mark Twain

Image courtesy of


This quote has been falsely attributed to both American President Abraham Lincoln and American sass master Mark Twain. In reality, it probably comes from a 1907 book by Maurice Switzer; the original quote appears to be “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”



  1. “The end justifies the means.”



Image courtesy of


Though this quote ably sums up the main theme of Niccolo Machiavelli’s political treatise ‘The Prince’, it does not actually appear anywhere in the work.



  1. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”


voltaire and evelyn beatrice hall

Image courtesy of simplebooklet and and Enio Padilha


These words are all but enmeshed in history as the original thought of Voltaire, French Enlightenment thinker and world-class wit. However, these words were actually written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, a twentieth century biographer of Voltaire. It seems that this quote, which Hall used to make a point about Voltaire’s life philosophy, was confused for actual Voltaire speech!


  1. “Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”


bob dylan bob marley roger williams

Image courtesy of Bob Marley and Wikipedia


We’ve got a battle of musical Bobs on our hands: both Bob Dylan and Bob Marley have been tied to this quote at different times. A musician did state this, but his name was not Bob but Roger; Roger Miller, a popular country singer, is credited with the earliest usage of this phrase in a 1972 television special.


  1. “Life is a sexually transmitted terminal disease.”

margaret atwood marilyn duckworth

Image courtesy of British Council Literature and Unity Books


This zinger has been attributed to a number of writers, Margaret Atwood being the most prominent among them. While many variations on the statement exist, these exact words were first put together by New Zealand author Marilyn Duckworth in 1984.


  1. And in the end, we were all just humans, drunk on the idea that love, only love, could heal our brokenness.”


f. scott fitzgerald

Image courtesy of Star Tribune


This quote went viral Twitter account @SirJayGatsby tweeted it out as the intellectual domain of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Only problem? He didn’t write it! The man who did, Christopher Poindexter, published the verse in a 2013 poetry collection.


  1. “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”


john of salisbury and isaac newton

Image courtesy of lisaby1 and Mr. Nussbaum


This quote is most often attributed to pioneering thinker/author Isaac Newton. And while Newton did employ it in a letter to rival scientist Robert Hooke, he did not coin it—that credit, as far as we can tell, goes to John of Salisbury, a twelfth-century theologian.


  1. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil that good men do nothing.”


edmund burke

Image courtesy of Power Line


The amorphous internet is not the only entity to misattribute this quote to Irish statesman Edmund Burke; President John F. Kennedy is guilty of doing it as well, and the Oxford University Press cites this quote—whose origin has never been found—as one of the most famously misattributed of all time.


  1. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light not our Darkness, that most frightens us.”


nelson mandela marianne williamson

Image courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica and HuffPost


Inspiring, no? This was allegedly said by Nelson Mandela, famed South African prisoner and liberation leader, at his presidential inauguration in 1994. But an allegation is all that is, because at no point in his speech did Mandela actually say this. Its real creator is self-help author Marianne Williamson, who wrote it in her 1992 book ‘A Return to Love’. 


Featured Image courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica and HuffPost.