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What They Didn’t Say

Elizabeth Knowles knows a thing or two about quotations; she is the editor of the 6th edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, the Publishing Manager for Oxford’s Quotation Dictionaries and is a historical lexicographer. Her most recent project was What They Didn’t Say: A Book of Misquotations, which celebrates language in the most unique of ways, by recognizing that it is constantly in flux. Below is the first paragraph from her introduction and three excerpts from the text.

Misquotations are often more than mistakes, and much more interesting. Many of them are quotations on the move, which are becoming part of our general vocabulary. We reach for them as a kind of shorthand through which we can make reference to a person, an event, or a particular situation. Thus the desire to evoke traditional conflicts of interest in the world of publishing may still lead someone to quote the popular form of Thomas Campbell’s toast to Napoleon at a literary dinner: ‘He once shot a publisher.’…

Excerpted from throughout the book

Failure is not an option

In the screenplay of the 1995 film Apollo 13, these words are spoken by, and encapsulate the philosophy of, the American former NASA flight director Gene Kranz. In 1970, Kranz was the lead flight director for the Apollo 13 mission. An explosion in the service module was signalled to Mission Control by the words of the astronaut James Lovell: ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem.’ It meant that Kranz’s team in the Control Center at Houston was responsible for bringing the astronauts safely back to earth in a damaged spacecraft. In the film Kranz (played by Ed Harris) says, ‘We’ve never lost an American in space, we’re sure as hell not going to lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option.’
Kranz used ‘Failure is not an option’ as the title of his autobiography, published in 2000 (it includes his view that ‘Failure does not exist in the lexicon of a flight controller.’). But while his account of what he said to his team does not include the words, they clearly summarize the spirit of the concluding passage of his briefing:

When you leave this room, you must leave believing that this crew is coming home. I don’t give a damn about the odds and I don’t give a damn that we’ve never done anything like this before. Flight control will never lose an American in space. You’ve got to believe, your people have got to believe, that this crew is coming home. Now let’s get going!

Go west, young man

In 1845, the American journalist John L. O’Sullivan had stated the principle of ‘our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions’. The concept of ‘manifest destiny’ forms a natural background to the injunction of a few years later, ‘Go west, young man, and grow up with the country’, which appeared in a New York Tribune editorial.The editorial was written by Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the paper, but as Hugh Rawson and Margaret Miner explain in the Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations, the formulation of ‘Go west, young man’ has traditionally been credited to another journalist, John B. L. Soule, editor of the Terre Haute (Indiana) Express. Greeley was thought to have reprinted an 1851 article by Soule as an editorial in the Tribune. However, recent researches in the archives of both papers have failed to find either the original article or the editorial reprinting it. Rawson and Miner conclude, therefore, that it is right to credit Greeley with the authorship ‘since he often gave this advice, verbally and in print, though perhaps never exactly in these words’. An association of the phrase in the public mind with Greeley is reinforced by a story of how the writer Nathanael West, born Nathan Weinstein, came to choose his pseudonym. Asked by William Carlos Williams how he had chosen the name ‘West’, he responded: ‘Horace Greeley said, “Go West, young man.” So I did.’

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

A proverbial view which was familiar in the Renaissance, and may reach back to the Furies in classical mythology, but which in this form derives from an alteration of lines in Congreve’s 1697 play The Mourning Bride: Heaven has no rage, like love to hatred turned,/ Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorned.

I had to include this last one, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” because one of my favorite movie quotes is “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned for Sega.” Do you know what movie I’m referencing?

Recent Comments

  1. Pamela Benjamin

    Mallrats. Oh, Brodie!

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