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5 Famous Misattributed Quotes

#1 Some people feel the rain; others just get wet. — Roger Miller

Wrongly attributed to the late singer Bob Marley.


This quote is actually said by another singer—the popular country singer Roger Miller, who is known for his songs “Dang me” and “King of the Road”.  In 1972, Miller hosted Roger Miller with His Friends and His Music on the ABC network. During the cast, Miller used the statement: Some people feel the rain; others just get wet.

And then in December, 1973, Donald Freeman who was a TV-Radio editor at The San Diego Union in California wrote a column titled: looking back at 1973. In it, he wrote, “And there was philosophy from Roger Miller, who noted: “Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.” [1973 December 21, San Diego Union, Donald Freeman: TV-Radio Editor, Page C-13, Column 1, San Diego, California.]

And then in September, 1978, it was reprinted as an epigraph in a syndicated newspaper column about a popular card game called Aces on Bridge, “Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.” — Roger Miller. [1978 September 20, Times-Picayune, Aces on Bridge by Ira G. Corn, Section 2: Page 2, [GNB Page 24], New Orleans, Louisiana.]

Also in 1999, an article titled Life’s big picture was published in an Australian newspaper called the Sunday Tasmanian. The writer used the word “walk” instead of “feel” : Some people walk in the rain. Others just get wet. – Roger Miller [1999 June 6, Sunday Tasmanian (Australia), Life’s big picture by Bryan Patterson, Page 19, Tasmania, Australia. ]

Yet in spite of that, this quote seems to circulate around the Internet, with Bob Marley as author, and sometimes to a lesser degree, Bob Dylan, even though there’s little to no evidence that proves either of them is the real author.



#2 I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. — Evelyn Beatrice Hall

Wrongly attributed to Voltaire, the French enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher.


Evelyn Beatrice Hall was an English writer best known for her biography of Voltaire entitled The Life of Voltaire, first published in 1903. She also wrote The Friends of Voltaire, which she completed in 1906. Her use of the words were a reflection of Voltaire’s viewpoint of an incident revolving around a French philosopher.

Her book details the incident: French philosopher Claude-Adrien Helvétius published a controversial work called De l’esprit (“On the Mind”) in 1758. The book was condemned in the Parlement of Paris and by the Collège de Sorbonne. Voltaire was unimpressed with the text, but he considered the attacks unjustified. After Voltaire learned that the book by Helvétius had been publicly incinerated, he reacted as follows [according to Hall, in her book] :

” ‘What a fuss about an omelette!’ he had exclaimed when he heard of the burning. How abominably unjust to persecute a man for such an airy trifle as that!

‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’  was his attitude now. ” [She wrote]

The above passage was confusing because Hall enclosed the now-famous statement in quotation marks. In reality, the phrase itself was actually depicting Hall’s conception of Voltaire’s internal mental attitude, and not his actual spoken words.

The misunderstanding persists to this day.


#3 The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits. — Alexandre Dumas, fils

Wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein, the German-born theoretical physicist.


A statement written in French appeared in volume 2 of Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle (Great Universal Dictionary of the Nineteenth Century) within an entry for Bêtise (Stupidity). This volume was published circa 1865, and the quotation was credited to Alexandre Dumas:

Une chose qui m’humilie profondément est de voir que le génie humain a des limites, quand la bêtise humaine n’en a pas. (Alex. Dum.)

A possible translation into English yields:

One thing that humbles me deeply is to see that human genius has its limits while human stupidity does not.

The attribution “Alex. Dum.” was a reference to Alexandre Dumas, fils, a dramatist known for the work The Lady of the Camellias, widely referred to as Camille. He shared his name with his father, Alexandre Dumas, père, who was the author of the popular novels The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

In 1903, an instance appeared in a magazine called The School Arts Book, and a French origin was suggested:

Even the best of teachers, I fancy, has to console himself occasionally with the cheerful observation of the French, “While human genius has limits, human stupidity has none.”  [1903 November, The School Arts Book, Volume 3, Number 3, The Catch-All by Editor, Start Page 125, Quote Page 128, Published by The Davis Press, Worcester, Massachusetts. (Google Books) LINK]

In 1891, The Phrenological Journal published a set of remarks under the title Wisdom which included an instance of the expression credited to “A. Dumas, fils”; hence, the son of Alexandre Dumas, père, was specifically identified:

What distresses me is to see that human genius has limitations, and human stupidity has none.—A. Dumas, fils. [1891 January, The Phrenological Journal, Wisdom, Quote Page 52, Column 1, Published by Fowler & Wells Company, New York. (Google Books ) LINK ]

There is no substantive evidence that Albert Einstein said or wrote any instances of the expression.

#4 The only way to avoid criticism is do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. — Elbert Hubbard

Wrongly attributed to the Greek philosopher Aristotle.


In an 1898 collection of short essays titled Little Journeys to the Homes of American Statesmen by Elbert Hubbard,  abolitionist politician William H. Seward noted that he was the target of an assassination attempt. Hubbard suggested that one must brave censure and danger to live a full and meaningful life:

If you would escape moral and physical assassination, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing—court obscurity, for only in oblivion does safety lie.  [1898, Little Journeys to the Homes of American Statesmen by Elbert Hubbard, Section: William H. Seward, Start Page 363, Quote Page 370, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York; The Knickerbocker Press, New York. (Edition copyright 1898; Reprint date November 1901) (HathiTrust Full View) LINK LINK ]

In 1903, Elbert Hubbard released a book focused on orators instead of statesmen titled Little Journeys to the Homes of Eminent Orators. The work included a section about William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, and Hubbard was dismissive when he discussed William’s father who was named Robert Pitt. Hubbard employed an instance of the saying, but it was not in the form of an aphorism:

Robert Pitt, son of Diamond Tom, escaped all censure and unkind criticism by doing nothing, saying nothing and being nothing. [1903, Little Journeys to the Homes of Eminent Orators, Section: William Pitt, Start Page 163, Quote Page 167, Published by The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (Google Books) LINK]

In April, 1908, the humor magazine Life printed a precise match. The adage was ascribed to The Philistine which was the magazine edited and published by Elbert Hubbard and the Roycroft community:

To escape criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.—Philistine. [1908 April 23, Life, Volume 51, Aut Scissors Aut Nullus, Quote Page 438, Column 2, Published by Life Publishing Company at the Life Office, New York. (Google Books Full View) LINK

There is no substantive evidence that Aristotle said or wrote any instances of the expression.


#5 Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. — Allen Saunders

Wrongly attributed to the singer John Lennon.


John Lennon did compose a song containing this saying and released it in 1980. The song was called Beautiful Boy or Darling Boy and it was part of the album Double Fantasy. Lennon wrote the lyrics about his experiences with his son Sean:

Before you cross the street take my hand.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

But the expression can be traced back more than two decades before this time. The first known appearance was in an issue of Reader’s Digest magazine dated January 1957. The statement was printed together with nine other unrelated sayings in a section called “Quotable Quotes” [RDAS]:

Allen Saunders: Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans. —Publishers Syndicate

In June, 1957, the adage appeared in a Texas newspaper as a freestanding filler item. The attribution given was the same as that in the Reader’s Digest: “Allen Saunders, Publishers Syndicate”

The newspaper comic strip “Steve Roper” was written by an individual named Allen Saunders and distributed by Publishers Syndicate. Three important reference works list the Reader’s Digest citation to Saunders: The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs [DPAS], The Quote Verifier [QVAS], and The Yale Book of Quotations [YQAS].