No Famous Person Ever Said What You Quoted Them Saying

It’s like Einstein said, “Check your sources.”

On Mondays, we almost always post a quotation on using the hashtag #MondayMotivation. It’s difficult for me to come up with a quotation because I insist that the quotation have a primary source, not a second-party attribution. In other words, the quote must be in the writings or public statements of a person or be from someone who was recounting the quotation they heard directly from the source, not from a friend-of-a-friend of the source.

One of the places I look to verify quotes is the Quote Investigator, a website of someone whose pen name is Garson O’Toole.

NPR’s All Things Considered recently ran an interview with O’Toole, who has a new book out called, Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations.

Here’s a quote by O’Toole that can be verified by listening to the interview below:”It’s a lot of fun to uncover these hidden histories, and I’m also very glad when I get to give credit to the person who actually said it.”


Another place I look is Wikiquote, a project of the organization that runs Wikipedia. It is maintained by hundreds of people who are like O’Tolle. If you go there to look for a specific quote reference to a quote by Einstein or Hemingway, you’ll often be disappointed not to see it. Click on the “Discussion” tab at the top, left side of the box that contains the quote. There you will see a list of quotes that are often attributed to the person, under the heading, “Unsourced.” You’ll also see any debates over the source.

I’m sure I’ve been guilty of lame sourcing, but it’s still a pet-peeve.