Recently I’ve noticed some interesting articles about false attributions, re-arrangements of great quotations — sometimes with the effect of changing great ideas. Here are some examples.
Two of these articles point out the way that the reduction of great quotes can lead to “bumper sticker ready” sound bytes that sacrifice the meaning of the original sentence. Here is Steven Colbert pointing out the damage that selective editing can do to the original speech.
Here is an article from the New York Times, which conveys a similar message.
I’ve also noticed that catchy, pithy, and sometimes emotionally stirring speeches are attributed to people other than the original writers. Kurt Vonnegut, for example, got credit for a column penned by a Mary Schmich, a writer for The Chicago Tribune. Ms. Schmich’s piece, which eventually became a hit song, inspired many people, but somewhat sadly, it’s still known as “that speech that Vonnegut didn’t really write.” Having the name of a very famous writer attached to her piece probably got her some publicity. There are other examples, however, that may have worse effects.
George Carlin, for example, has gotten credit for a long series of advice columns on aging, love, and life in general. Mr. Carlin published a notice on his web page, saying “Don’t blame me” for these pieces, which he calls “really lame” and “embarrassing to see my name” on. You can read all about it on many web pages, but I like this one best.
Not that the advice is particularly bad… but it’s distinctively not anything like anything that George Carlin ever did in comedy. So now, whenever someone tells me that someone famous said something, I go to Snopes.