Mark Twain remains the most frequently quoted American author, which means he is also the most frequently misquoted author. We see these misattributed quotes on Facebook, in blogs and tweets, and even in print. Dozens of quote sites on the Internet continue to post them despite noble attempts to set the record straight.
But, there is hope. One site, TwainQuotes.com, edited by Barbara Schmidt, goes to the trouble of verifying quotes as authentic and even alphabetizes them by topic. The Mark Twain Project lets researchers peruse Twain's letters and autobiography using keyword searches to track down sources. The University of Virginia hosts a site that also allows keyword searches of many of Twain's works. And Twain scholar R. Kent Rasmussen has published a thoroughly researched and reliable source, The Quotable Mark Twain.
When a good Mark Twain quote is needed to punch up a paper or spice up a speech, it is possible to verify it with a credible source.
On the popular television series, The Office, boss Michael Scott's go-to expression was, "That's what she said." Although several T-shirt websites claim Mark Twain said it first, there is no evidence he did, and certainly not in the context implied by Steve Carrell's Michael Scott. Technically, it can be argued that one of Twain's characters said it in "Ten Thousand Years Among the Microbes" or in "Those Blasted Children" or as "That is what she said" in The Mysterious Stranger -- but, again, not in the context suggested.
Following are 20 quotes frequently misattributed to Twain. No one can prove he ever spoke them, nor is there any evidence he wrote them. Fact-checking has never been easier, so why not verify before repeating? Remember -- friends don't let friends misquote Mark Twain.
A few examples of quotes Mark Twain DID NOT say:
1. "I wrote a long letter because I didn't have time to write a short one." (The actual sentiment was expressed by French philosopher Blaise Pascal.)
2. "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." (Even Twain has misattributed. He originally credited Disraeli with this quote, but it appears to have been said by Leonard H. Courtney.)
3. "I am not an American. I am the American." (Twain was actually quoting his friend Frank Fuller.)
4. "Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first."
5. "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."
6. "It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt."
7. "The secret of getting ahead is getting started."
8. "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education."
9. "It's not the size of the dog that's in the fight, but the size of the fight that's in the dog."
10. "Golf is a good walk spoiled."
11. "The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco."
12. "Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over."
13. "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."
14. "Be careful of reading medical magazines; you might die of a misprint."
15. "Never pick a fight with someone who buys his ink by the barrel."
16. "Denial is not just a river in Egypt."
17. "You should never trust a man who has only one way to spell a word."
18. "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes."
19. "A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining and wants it back the minute it begins to rain."
And perhaps the most commonly misattributed quote is this one that has been making the rounds on the Internet since the mid-1990s and has even been included in numerous books:
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
Mark Twain did NOT say that.
The quote belongs to H. Jackson Brown's mother. See page 13 in Brown's 1991 book: P.S. I Love You: When Mom Wrote, She Always Saved the Best for Last.
Sadly, Google search results for "Mark Twain quotes" list popular sites that misattribute hundreds of quotes -- no sources provided. In all matters, my dad used to say, "You have to consider the source." Agreed. Verify veracity.
As Mark Twain did say in Following the Equator (1897), "It is my belief that nearly any invented quotation, played with confidence, stands a good chance to deceive."
That's what he said.
One of Twain's most quoted books is A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - and for good reason. It features a time-traveling Yankee from the Colt Arms factory in Hartford, Connecticut arriving in King Arthur's Camelot.
These words were spoken by Huckleberry Finn. That's right, after the success of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain penned two sequels: Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894) and Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896), both narrated by Huck.
Politicians of all parties quote (and misquote) Twain, who considered himself a mugwump.
Hal Holbrook has been performing as Mark Twain longer than Sam Clemens used the moniker. Hal finds that Twain's words are especially relevant in politics, and he says he only has to read the newspaper each morning to know which passages of Twain's works he will incorporate into his live performances. If you haven't seen Hal Holbrook in "Mark Twain Tonight!" yet - what are you waiting for?
Twain had a lot to say about irreverence, including "True irreverence is disrespect for another man's god." (Following the Equator, 1897)
Mark Twain preferred reading nonfiction to fiction, and most of his own writing was nonfiction. Even his fiction was steeped in fact; The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a nostalgic recollection of many of his own childhood haunts, people, and events.
Mark Twain knew his share of grief and joy. One of the best stories he ever wrote on the subject was "A True Story Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It."
"Well, my book is written -- let it go. But if it were only to write over again there wouldn't be so many things left out. They burn in me; & they keep multiplying & multiplying; but now they can't ever be said. And besides, they would require a library -- & a pen warmed up in hell." Mark Twain in a letter to William D. Howells, 22 Sept. 1889, on A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Mark Twain (Sam Clemens), his wife Olivia, and their daughter Clara traveled around the world for one year so Twain could lecture, earning sufficient funds to stave off bankruptcy. Money seemed to be the greatest problem; however, when the tour ended and they sent for their other two daughters to join them in England, they received word that eldest daughter Susy was seriously ill. She died of spinal meningitis before being reunited with her family.
Mark Twain was facetiously referring to newspapers when he said this.
Again, these are the words of Huckleberry Finn...
Mark Twain played music - piano and guitar. The double-CD, Mark Twain: Words & Music, tells Twain's life in spoken word and song and is a benefit for his boyhood home in Hannibal. (And yes, you'll hear "the glory-beaming banjo!")
Young Sam Clemens was a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River before the Civil War broke out. He wrote the definitive account of the golden age of steamboating in Life on the Mississippi. Read it for the adventure and a colorful cast of characters.
This could be a motto for life...
Sam Clemens adored Livy Langdon. Although ten years her senior, she referred to him throughout their happy marriage as "Youth" for his boyish spirit, and he nicknamed her "Gravity."
Perspective is everything. Maybe this is what Jimmy Buffett meant when he sang, "Feel it all with a willing heart, Every stop is a place to start" in "La Vie Dasante."
Following the Equator is one of Mark Twain's best-kept secrets.
Neil Armstrong might have agreed. Jimmy Buffett, avid fan of Mark Twain (and voice of Huck Finn on Mark Twain: Words & Music), has recorded two songs that come to mind with this quote: "Come to the Moon" and "The Rocket That Grandpa Rode."
Mark Twain also called war "a wanton waste of projectiles."
Most of us have known someone who fits this description of the so-called "friend."
Follow Cindy Lovell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Twainiest