Can you identify the sources of these 10 famous quotations?

A pithy epigram can add gravitas and authority to your argument; however, failing to properly attribute the aphorism can undercut your credibility. Getting the words wrong might be worse.

Some of the quotes in our most famous memes are wrong.

Wrongly attributed. Wrongly stated. Wrongly shortened. Wrongly turned into sound bites.

As journalists, PR specialists, or corporate communicators, we know the importance of capturing quotes from our sources correctly. The same goes for quotes made famous online, especially on social media—the quotes you’ve heard again and again. Before you incorporate them into your work, confirm who said the words, as well as what was actually said.

Below are a few of these famous false quotes, along with their corrections.

(Sources: Quote Investigator, The Phrase Finder and Wikiquote.)

1. “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”—Oscar Wilde

What Oscar Wilde actually wrote in De Profundis, his emotional letter from prison, is better:

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”

2. “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”—Marilyn Monroe

This quote is often attributed to Marilyn Monroe, but it was coined by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. She wrote the book “Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History” in 1976.

3. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”—Albert Einstein

These words originated from mystery novelist Rita Mae Brown. She wrote this in her 1983 book “Sudden Death”:

“Unfortunately, Susan didn’t remember what Jane Fulton once said. ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.'”

4. “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”—Vince Lombardi

Vince Lombardi did say this, but the original exhortation came from Red Sanders. Sanders—a UCLA Bruins football coach—said it in 1950.

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5. “You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.”—Winston Churchill

As with Oscar Wilde’s quote, Churchill’s actual quote is much more profound:

“What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?”

6. “There’s a sucker born every minute.”—P.T. Barnum

There is little credible evidence that this quote came from Barnum. Some historians attribute it to Barnum’s competitors, who may have claimed Barnum said it in order to discredit him.

7. “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”—George Orwell

Because this principle is so aptly illustrated in “Animal Farm,” many attribute this quote to Orwell. However, the original quote came from British politician Lord Acton, speaking of an absolute monarchy:

“Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

8. “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”—Mark Twain

Though it seems perfectly plausible, Mark Twain did not originate this sentiment. Maurice Switzer did in his 1907 book “Mrs. Goose, Her Book”:

“It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”

9. “Because it’s there.”— George Mallory

This quote is attributed to George Mallory as his answer to questions about why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. There is no record that he actually said this, and it is now thought that a newspaper reporter made it up.

10. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”—Neil Armstrong

Perhaps the most famous on our list, the accuracy of this quote has been debated for decades. Neil Armstrong claimed that what he actually said was:

“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The “a” was said to be lost in the static during the transmission. Analysis of the transmission by linguists, computer scientists and historians has been inconclusive.

It’s your turn, PR Daily readers. Please share your flawed quotations and their corrections below.

La ura Hale Brockway is a writer and editor from Austin, Texas. Read more of her posts on writing, editing, and corporate life on PR Daily and at

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