Things people never said
Olivia Woodward | 27 February 2017
Human beings have been granted with the greatest gift of all: the gift of language. Proper, eloquent, beautiful language. It's what separates us from the animal kingdom -- well, that and opposable thumbs. Yet, despite supposedly being wonderfully articulate creatures, we so often hide behind the words of others. Teenage girls quote song lyrics because nobody can sum up a 15-year-old girl better than Taylor Swift; literature students quote Shakespeare or Bronte (all three of them) or Tennyson in order to seem deep and meaningful and intelligent; and we all quote films because, let's face it, there's only so much small talk we can make with a group of not-quite-friends-but-more-than-acquaintancesbefore resorting to quoting 'Mean Girls' or 'Anchorman'.
 
 
You'd think that, as we can't be bothered to come up with our own words, we'd at least make the effort to quote others correctly, right? Wrong. Day after day after day we spew out endless quotes and clichés, smugly thinking that we are quoting some great literary mind when, in actual fact, we are completely and utterly wrong. Luckily for you, I am here to set you straight with my List of Common Misquotations (I am a know-it-all, not a comedy genius -- you come up with your own witty title).
 
 
I want to suck your blood (Bram Stoker -- Dracula)
 
Cue delightfully adorable 8 year-old on Halloween. Dressed to the nines in cape and fangs, fake blood dripping from the mouth, s/he rushes up to his/her adoring parents and gleefully exclaims 'I WANT TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD!' Parents look on with love, pretending to be terrified but quietly thinking to themselves: 'Our child is a genius! Just 8 years old and already quoting one of the most famous works of gothic literature!' Alas, poor parents, you are wrong. Bram Stoker never wrote the words 'I want to suck your blood', nor even did Bela Lugosi, the actor who first played Dracula on the Silver Screen, ever utter them. The confusion could come from Tim Burton's 1994 film 'Ed Wood' in which a character, impersonating Bela Lugosi, cries the immortal phrase. However, no variation of the infamous vampire has ever said 'I want to suck your blood' -- presumably because it's obvious; vampires do not need to state their intention any more than mosquitoes do.
 
 
Elementary, my dear Watson (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)
 
Phenomenally observant, more than a little eccentric, and (if you're one of those 'Sherlock' fans who worships Sherlock/Watson) probably a little camp. Yes, Sherlock Holmes is undoubtedly Britain's best known detective. Sir Arthur Conon Doyle's creation has provided scope for countless adaptations of the stories. And what's the one phrase we all attribute to the magnificent detective? 'Elementary, my dear Watson!' The phrase paints Holmes as condescending, and Watson as slightly inept in comparison -- an apt portrayal. However, the phrase 'Elementary, my dear Watson' never once appears in 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes'.
 
 
Mirror, Mirror, on the wall... (Snow White)
 
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (dwarves? dwarfs? I'm never quite sure). Complete with tragically beautiful princess and horrifically evil step-mother, it's everything you could ever want in a fairytale. Which would explain why it was the first film that Disney released (many people seem to think it's 'Dumbo', but Snow White precedes the great flying elephant by 3 years). Now I doubt any of you could muster up a single quote from the film apart from 'Mirror, mirror, on the wall -- who's the fairest of them all?' The line is eternal -- it's short, it's catchy, it's got just the right level of narcissism. But it's also wrong. The wicked step-mother actually says 'Magic mirror on the wall'. It may only be a slight distinction, but it's an important one: if the wicked step-mother was just talking to any old mirror on the wall, we would think her crazy; make it a magic mirror though and suddenly everything's fine.
 
 
Almost everything Shakespeare ever wrote
 
Shakespeare is probably the most misquoted writer of all time. Not only do we blithely attribute words he never said to him, like 'Your lips are like wine and I want to get drunk' and 'When I saw you I fell in love, and you smiled because you knew'; but we also corrupt the words he did write. Some of them are minor, forgivable misquotes -- for example, it's 'The lady doth protest too much methinks' as opposed to 'Methinks the lady doth protest too much'; and it's 'Lay on, Macduff' not 'Lead on, Macduff'. But some have been butchered almost beyond recognition. The phrase 'a rose by any other name smells just as sweet' does not once appear in 'Romeo and Juliet'- 'What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet' does. Similarly, Hamlet does not say 'Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well' but rather 'Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio' -- he never claims to know the man well. What's more, when we do finally manage to correctly quote Shakespeare, rarely do we actually understand what he meant. When Juliet cries out 'O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?' she is not asking where he is, but rather asking why he is called Romeo. With all this confusion, the immortal bard must be turning in his grave!
 
 
And finally...
 
The phrase 'Luke, I am your father' does not appear in Star Wars at any point. The phrase 'No, I am your father', however, does. Subtle distinctions, my friends, subtle distinctions.

James Routledge 2016