This non-fiction book is a wonderful exploration into how quotations that everyone knows can be attributed to the incorrect persons. I very much enjoyed reading this book.
The author presents himself as “The Internet’s Foremost Quote Investigator”, and he got into this sideline back in the 1990s, when he got into various forms of electronic media (remember CD-ROMs?), and later was trying to run down the origin of “May you live in interesting times”. In 2010 he started the Quote Investigator website.
In this book he notes several ways a quote can be misattributed. Group Error covers three ways: Synthesis and Streamlining means that quotes evolve from complicated to simple; Ventriloquy happens when someone uses an elegant statement to illustrate a point about a famous person, and the statement becomes attached to the famous person as something the famous person once said; and Proverbial Wisdom can be attached to just about any person. Reader Error covers three ways: Textual Proximity happens when a quote in a book or article is so near to the name of a famous person that the quote becomes attached to the famous person; Real-World Proximity means that a quote by a moderately famous person becomes attached to a more famous person in the same milieu; and Similar Names happens when a quote by a moderately famous person is given to a much more famous person who has the same name. Author Area covers two ways: Concoctions happen when someone invents a quote that a famous person might have said in movies or memes, and it becomes attached to the famous person, and Historical Fiction can create misattributed quotes when the author uses artistic license, and the resulting dialogue spoken by a character who is historical becomes a quote attributed to the historical character. Finally, Finders Keepers covers two ways: Capture is when a famous person quotes another person, and the quote becomes attached to the famous person rather than to the original person quoted, and Host is where quotes are given to a famous person, simply because the quote sounds like something that the famous person might have said. The back of the book contains two indexes, referencing quotes by quotation and by name (incorrect or correct).
I very much enjoyed reading this book, and I now have the Quote Investigator site on the sidebar of my weblog. And I recommend this book to anyone fascinated by quotations.