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Quotes are great. We like to post them all over social media and wear them on our clothes to share their wisdom and profess our own prudence. Unfortunately, some of the most popular quotes I’ve seen emblazoned on Pinterest and coffee mugs are credited to the wrong person. It’s often difficult to know when or how this happens in the first place, but the best way to handle misattributed quotes is by identifying and spreading information about the people who really said them so they can get the appreciation they deserve.

Here are five quotes that are among the most popular and most frequently misattributed.



Here’s who didn’t say it:


Marilyn Monroe, actor


Eleanor Roosevelt, first lady


Hillary Clinton, politician

Here’s who did:


Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, professor at Harvard University. She originally wrote it in the 1970s in an article about funerals for Christian women. In an interview, Ulrich said that the quote became popularized in the 1990s and that she found the renewed interest humorous.


Here’s who didn’t say it:


Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights activist


Mahatma Gandhi, civil rights activist


Penn Jillette, TV personality

Here’s who did:


Jessica Dovey, Facebook user. She posted it alongside a genuine quote from Dr. King, leading to people assuming the entire text was from the civil rights leader. It may have then been ascribed to Gandhi due to his philosophy of nonviolence. Penn Jillette retweeted the misattributed quote, which is how it then became associated with him.


Here’s who didn’t say it:


Albert Einstein, scientist


Benjamin Franklin, founding father


Mark Twain, writer

Here’s who did:


Narcotics Anonymous, a nonprofit group for addiction recovery. The first appearance of this quote is in a handbook they produced in November 1981. It seems to have begun being attributed to Einstein in the early 90s. I’m not sure where the Franklin and Twain credits are coming from – maybe just a reputation for being smart and having lived many years ago?


Here’s who didn’t say it:


Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom


Lillian Gish, actor


Arthur Ashe, athlete

Here’s who did:


Sir Norman MacEwen, Air Vice Marshal in the Royal Air Force of Britain. Some sources give a longer quote attributed to MacEwen. Additionally, he lived before any of the other potential authors, which also suggests McEwen is the most likely originator. Unfortunately, the source of when and where he said this has not been found.


Here’s who didn’t say it:


John F. Kennedy, President of the United States


Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, first lady


Audrey Hepburn, actor

Here’s who did:


Thomas Cronin, political scientist. He wrote it in 1987, decades after JFK’s death. It’s unclear how it became associated with the president, and the false ownership seems to have transferred to his wife at some point. The credit to Hepburn probably has something to do with a general 1960s association, and while she held similar views, this quote was all Tom.

This is just a small sampling of misattributed quotes you’re likely to come across online. Whenever you see a quote that seems questionable, ask yourself:

  • Is there a source, like a place and time or name of a publication, available?
  • Is the language accurate to the person’s time period?
  • Is the idea promoted in the quote consistent with the person’s known views?

If you ever do end up re-quoting something that turns out to have the incorrect source, don’t sweat it – just correct it.


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