These popular quotes float around Pinterest and are emblazoned on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and book totes, but are they being misattributed? (Hint: yes.) Here are the real sources of a few catchy slogans you might have heard around the Internet.
“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
Often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, the real credit belongs to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Harvard professor who wrote it in a paper in 1976 and later wrote a book on the topic.
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Kay Mills also made the quote famous by publishing her own variant in a book title in 1995, changing “seldom” to “rarely.”
The quote is often used to defend unconventional behavior or methods and to encourage women to make history by not “behaving well.” The intent of the quote within its original context, however, was to lament the fact that the women who quietly work behind the scenes are not remembered by history.
“You have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love you.”
Nope, Jane Austen never, ever said this. It’s a quote from a film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, her most famous novel, but it comes straight from the screenplay by Deborah Moggach. This line never appears in the original novel, nor anything even close to it. Jane Austen’s writing is better than that, folks.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Yes, Abraham Lincoln did indeed say this! He used this phrase in his 1858 speech accepting his nomination as senator for the newly-formed Illinois Republican Party. He was speaking about the division caused by the heated debates over slavery in the United States, and warning that the country could not continue on in unity if its citizens could not agree on such a fundamental thing. But he didn’t make this proverb up — Jesus did. He was responding to the Jewish leaders who were accusing him of performing miracles and casting out demons by the power of Satan.
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.
— Mark 3:22–26
“No bread? Then let them eat cake!”
While doomed, headless Marie Antoinette catches a lot of flak for having supposedly uttered this heartless suggestion in response to starving peasants, there’s no evidence that she actually said anything of the sort. The anecdote — actually quoted as “let them eat brioche” — comes from the Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, where he recounted the story of an unnamed princess who was supposed to have said this. However, he wrote that portion of the multi-volume book in 1767, when Marie Antoinette was only 12 years old and had not even moved to France yet (she was still living in Austria at the time).
“If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.”
Pinterest, Tumblr, and those Facebook memes in Comic Sans (beloved by your great-aunt) all attribute this self-love slogan to Marilyn Monroe, but there’s absolutely no evidence that she actually said it. The entire quote, which became popular on Internet dating profiles in the early 2000’s, goes like this:
“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”
Though some of the sentiments may be in line with the devil-may-care attitude Monroe embodied, no source exists to pinpoint this quote to her in any kind of statement, letter, recording, interview, or even movie. Could she possibly have said it? Sure, in the same theoretical universe that posits that a monkey with a typewriter can eventually produce Shakespeare. It’s not impossible, but since there’s no evidence backing up the assertion that she said it, it shouldn’t be attributed to her.
The moral of this story? If you don’t know who said it, that shouldn’t prevent you from quoting it — but don’t put words in anyone’s mouth without being sure of your facts first. Misattributing quotes, especially in these days of simple Internet searches, is a good way to lose credibility very quickly.
Benjamin Franklin did say “In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes,” however. (He wrote it in a letter to a friend in 1789 and it was quoted in The Works of Benjamin Franklin in 1817.) So go ahead and keep quoting that one.