Ten Quotes You’re Getting Wrong



Curiosity killed the cat, but did it stay dead?

You think you know a saying. You’ve heard it over and over (and over), so you never questioned it. Maybe you should. It turns out that many quotes we all know by heart are incorrect. Sometimes they’re a word or two off, and sometimes they are way different.

Here’s a list of ten quotations often misquoted.

  1. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

What Gandhi actually said was “As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.” The real quote is quite different from the popular version. It’s saying that personal and social change happen together, not that personal change alone is enough.

  1. “Nice guys finish last.”

This saying has been attributed to Leo Durocher, the baseball hall of famer also known as Leo the Lip. What he really said, when referring to an opposing team, was “All nice guys. They’ll finish last.” It’s not quite as catchy, but it still gets the point across.

  1. “Curiosity killed the cat.”

The earliest known printed reference of this phrase dates to 1912 as part of a proverb printed in The Titusville Herald newspaper. It reads: “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.” This time, the real quotation differs drastically from the well-known version. The cat doesn’t stay dead; he comes back to life once he’s satisfied (from eating ghost mice, perhaps).

  1. “The end justifies the means.”

Do you think Niccolo Machiavelli said this? Most people do. However, it’s nowhere to be found in The Prince. The closest to this the Italian philosopher and writer got was “One must consider the final result,” which doesn’t really have the same ring to it.

  1. “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

All those high school social studies teachers have it wrong. The true quote is “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s attributed to Lord John Dalberg-Acton, a famous British historian from the nineteenth century.

  1. “My country, right or wrong.”

This is only the first part of what the German revolutionary and American statesman, Carl Shurz, said in 1872. The full quote is “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” The correct version has the opposite idea of the slogan nationalists promote.

  1. “The British are coming!”

Nope. Paul Revere never said this on his famous horse ride. It’s believed that what he did say was “The regulars are out.” “Regulars” was what the rebels called British soldiers.

  1. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

While the premise of this quote may be true, it’s not what the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century playwright, William Congreve, wrote. The real line from his 1697 play, The Mourning Bride, goes like this: “Heaven has no rage, like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury, like a woman scorned.”

  1. “Houston, we have a problem.”

This is close. But Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell really said, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

  1. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Similarly, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong swore he said, “One small step for a man.” It’s just that people didn’t hear it on the transmission. Without it, the quote essentially says, “one small step for mankind, one giant leap for mankind.”


Does this mean you can’t use these sayings any longer? Not necessarily. But it may be prudent to note they’re variations of the true quotations. Plus, knowing the difference will make you look smart.


I.e. vs. e.g.

This is a drawing of an animal, i.e., a unicorn.

This is a drawing of an animal, i.e., a unicorn.


Latin roots
The abbreviation i.e. comes from the Latin words id est, which mean that is.

The abbreviation e.g. comes from the Latin phrase exempli gratia, which means for the sake of example.

Mnemonic device
To remember what they mean, we’re going to say i.e. equals in other words because both start with the letter I and e.g. equals example because they both start with the letter E.

i.e. = in other words
e.g. = example

Using i.e.
We use i.e. to give more information about something, to clarify, and to explain it further.

Example: Liza has only one hobby, i.e., making taxidermy unicorns.

Here we say that Liza has only one hobby, and we clarify that her one hobby is making taxidermy unicorns. We could also say that Liza has only one hobby, in other words, making taxidermy unicorns.

Example: Liza’s favorite animal is the unicorn, i.e., the mythical pony beast with a horn growing from the top of its face.

Here we use i.e. to explain what a unicorn is. We could also say that Liza’s favorite animal is the unicorn, in other words, the mythical pony beast with a horn growing from the top of its face.

Note that the explanation that comes after i.e. can be the only explanation. A unicorn is a mythical horned pony beast. It’s not both a mythical horned pony beast and a mythical horned sea creature. That’s a narwhal. And a unicorn can’t be both a unicorn and a narwhal.

Using e.g.
We use e.g. to give examples of something.

Example: Pete saw many animals at the zoo, e.g., elephants, tigers, and unicorns.

Here we use e.g. to give examples of animals at the zoo. Pete saw elephants, tigers, and unicorns at the zoo, but those weren’t the only animals he saw. We could also say Pete saw many animals at the zoo (example: elephants, tigers, and unicorns).

Example: Unicorns eat a wide variety of candy, e.g., gumdrops.

Here again we use e.g. to give an example. Gumdrops are one example of what unicorns eat, but unicorns eat more than one type of candy; the sentence says they eat a wide variety of candy.

Note that unlike with i.e., more than one explanation can come after e.g. I could have inserted lollipops, licorice, and gummy bears along with gumdrops because unicorns eat a wide variety of candy, not just gumdrops. If they only ate gumdrops, I would use i.e. instead.

Insert either i.e. or e.g. in the spaces below. The answers are at the end.

1) The unicorn is skilled at hundreds of games, _______, poker, charades, and field hockey.
2) Unicorns are found in the wild in only one area, _______, the Philippines.
3) Unicorn meat is made into many dishes, _______, burgers and shish kebabs.
4) Sal the unicorn has a favorite trick, _______, blowing glitter from his horn.




Answers: 1) e.g. 2) i.e. 3) e.g. 4) i.e.


Boy, am I glad it’s a new year. You may have noticed I didn’t do much posting in 2014. It was a rollercoaster year for me. I dealt with health problems and a death in the family and needed to focus on managing my day-to-day life.

But I’m feeling better. And I want to give you more grammar goodness. Look for more frequent postings in 2015.

I’m wishing you all a happy 2015, too. Thanks for sticking with me.


Library love

Today we have a guest post by Angela Palm, who has written a lovely book inspired by old library check-out cards. Enjoy!

Stories and poems have long shown readers tiny slices of the lives of others, of frozen moments in time, and of worlds-away places. I remember fondly the libraries that nurtured my love of books and that provided the backdrop for the untold fantastic travels of my mind. I remember the check-out cards tucked into the slim, manila envelopes that adhered to the inside covers. I remember standing at the check-out counter, scanning the list of names of people who had read a book before me. In some cases, I was the first to check out the book, the first to sign the card. Over a year ago, when I stumbled upon small bundles of these cards available for sale on Etsy on sites such as Erin Roof’s, those memories were unearthed. I ordered a set of ten, a set of five. Another set of ten. On and on until I’d filled a shoebox with old library check-out cards.

When the cards arrived in the mail, their three-dimensional appeal further incited my interest. They felt like that past; they looked like the past; they even smelled like the past. Some who’d sold the cards were curious about my purchase—what was I going to do with them? At the time, I didn’t know. I just wanted to collect them and keep remembering. I wanted to keep discovering new pathways to imagining the past through the cards. The more I looked at the signatures, the more I wondered about the people who’d borrowed books. I studied the handwriting on the cards—some were cursive curling strokes that spread the height of two lines, others were compact and block-lettered. I imagined the personalities that went along with these styles and stories began to populate my mind. I wrote some of those stories (here’s one!) and shared the exercise with other writers. I spent a year curated those poems, essays, and stories—all sprung from these beloved cards and found the perfect publisher for the collection. The book is now available for pre-order through Wind Ridge Books, a nonprofit book publisher that forms charitable partnerships with the organization of the author’s choosing. I chose the Vermont Library Association as my charitable partner for the book, Please Do Not Remove, in hopes that it would be a small way to help keep libraries alive, physically operating in their often historic buildings, so that they may inspire others in the same way that they have inspired me. Ten percent of the book’s net proceeds will be donated to the Vermont Library Association.

Are you a writer? Would you like to give this exercise a try? You can email me at angelacathleen@gmail.com to get a picture of one of the cards from my collection. I’ll be working on subsequent volumes of this anthology in other states in 2015. Let’s stay in touch and be inspired together.