10 Famous Quotes That Were Never Actually Spoken

There are some quotes you hear repeated nearly every day. Today, you can’t take a walk down the street or follow a page on Instagram without seeing images and stickers of inspirational quotes that have withstood the test of time, along with your share of cheesy and cringeworthy inspirational messages. Quotations are one of the most prominent ways in which famous people and historical figures are remembered. Many famous quotes are legitimate and become the main thing historical figures are known for.

For example, Martin Luther King Jr. will always be famous for his “I Have A Dream” speech, Humphrey Bogart will always be known by, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and Reagan’s presidency will be remembered by, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

In spite of their longevity and fame, it turns out some of these quotes that you know so dearly, were never said in the first place. The thing about these bite-sized quotes is that unless it was published in written work or said in a recorded public speech, it can be rather difficult to prove something was actually said. What this means is that a lot of humanity’s most famous sayings are exaggerations, misattributions, or just plain fabrications.

“Let them eat cake” was not the only famous quote of history that was never said by its alleged source, Marie Antoinette. There are many famous quips, quotations, and idioms that were said by someone entirely different than who they’re attributed to, or in some cases never spoken at all. Here are 10 famous quotes you’ve probably heard many times, but which were never actually said.

10 "Anything That Can Go Wrong, Will Go Wrong"


9 “The Ends Justify The Means”


8 “Elementary, My Dear Watson”


7 “Israel Must Be Wiped Off the Map”


6 “I Invented The Internet”

Via shutterstock

5 Pretty Much Everything Ever Attributed to Stalin


For a long time, supposed quotes from Joseph Stalin have circulated in the press, especially since the invention of the internet. Literally all the most famous quotes from the Soviet leader have no source or highly questionable sources; at this point if you’ve heard a quote attributed to Stalin, chances are it’s fake. Let’s run through this one real quick.

“A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”

By far the most famous Stalin quote, originally published and promoted by The New York Times. Russian historians have no record of the line, and many variants exist. Its original source seems to be a fictional story.

“Death solves all problems - no man, no problem.”

This comes from a work of fiction, the novel Children of the Arbat by Anatoly Rybakov. A fictional version of Stalin said it, and the author said there was no source for the quote and it was purely fictional dialogue.

“The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”

Stalin did say something similar to this, but the actual quote is quite different and expresses concern about voter fraud.  The real quote says: "I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this—who will count the votes, and how."

“The Pope! How many divisions has he got?”

The sarcastic quip was attributed to Stalin by Winston Churchill. Though widely quoted and repeated as fact, the quote was actually spoken in 1872 by Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck when asked about his anti-Catholic laws.

“Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?”

There is not a single source, even a fictional one, where Stalin is supposed to have said this. It seems to be a fabrication of the internet.

“We will hang the capitalists with the rope they sell us.”

4 “The Definition of Insanity is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over and Expecting a Different Result.”


3 The Two Most Famous Gandhi Quotes


"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Social media is endlessly plastered with images of this quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, though it sounds more like something an insufferable liberal arts student would say. It's also been popular on bumper stickers for decades, but that doesn't change the fact that it's not an actual Gandhi quote at all.

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

2 "Well-behaved Women Rarely Make History"


1 “I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It”


Yep, that's right - despite its popularity among history teachers, the internet's most famous quote was never uttered or written by its supposed source, Voltaire. Here's an idea: the next time someone says this quote, ask which book it's from or what the exact context was, and probably won't have an answer. It originally appeared in a book of essays called Friends of Voltaire about Voltaire's philosophy and thought. In the book, Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote the sentence which summed up everything he stood for. This resulted in the quote being falsely attributed to Voltaire himself.

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10 Famous Quotes That Were Never Actually Spoken