One topic that comes up fairly enough is that of quotations that everyone knows, but are wrong in some way. They might be misattributed, or they might be somewhat off. The other day, Beth was reading a Cracked article recently that pointed out how Ricky Ricardo never actually said, “Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do” on I Love Lucy, and Jerry Seinfeld only used “what’s the deal with…” when parodying observational comedy. The other ones that come up over and over again are “Beam me up, Scotty” for Star Trek and “Elementary, my dear Watson” for Sherlock Holmes.
Sometimes it’s a case of a parody being taken for the real thing, or just becoming popular enough that no one bothers to learn the difference. Hey, I was actually somewhat expecting Edward G. Robinson to say, “Where’s your messiah now?” in The Ten Commandments, even though it wouldn’t have made any sense. I believe it was Billy Crystal who came up with this line to mock his inappropriate New York accent in the film. I don’t believe Sarah Palin ever actually said she could see Russia from her house, either; that was Tina Fey playing her on Saturday Night Live.
What Palin actually said was that you could see Russia from Alaska, which is true on the face of it. The reason it was idiotic is that she said this in response to a question about foreign policy experience. Without the context, you don’t really get the stupidity. When George W. Bush was running for president, I remember seeing quite a few Dan Quayle quotes said to be his, which really seems unnecessary considering how many dumb things Bush said on his own. Others are really more paraphrases than anything. Blazing Saddles had a character say “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”, a shortened version of a line from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and it’s this short version that everyone references. I haven’t seen Treasure, but I understand that the complete line was, “Badges? We ain’t got no badges! We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!” No wonder people prefer the Blazing Saddles quote. I’ve also seen it mentioned that Darth Vader doesn’t actually say, “Luke, I am your father.” In the context of the scene in The Empire Strikes Back, it wouldn’t make sense for him to say “Luke,” as there’s no one else around he could be talking to. What he says is, “No! I am your father!”, as he’s replying to Luke’s comment that Vader killed his dad. Again, I think people add “Luke” not so much out of poor memory as that it sounds better by itself. “Play it again, Sam,” which was never actually said in Casablanca is similar in that respect. Apparently the Marx Brothers were the ones who first said that specific line. Getting back to “Beam me up, Scotty,” there were several lines spoken on Trek with the same basic gist, but not in that order. Same with “Just the facts, ma’am” on Dragnet, which is closer to the lines used in Stan Freberg’s Dragnet parodies, but even then it’s a somewhat longer version of the phrase. Regardless, I’ve heard that the actual show started using versions of the phrase more often after Freberg parodied it. Another paraphrase I’ve come across fairly often is “Tell me about the rabbits, George,” referencing Of Mice and Men. Looney Tunes cartoons were the source of similar lines like “Which way did he go, George?” and “I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him.” Since the cartoons have remained popular longer than some of the material they were parodying, people today might well think first of Bugs Bunny as saying, “Of course you know this means war,” when he was actually quoting Groucho Marx. A lot of quotes from the Bible or Shakespeare are also more familiar in pop culture in slightly altered forms, and it’s not always known how the alteration began. Bart Simpson did say, “Don’t have a cow” and some of his other catchphrases, but the show joked about them a lot more often than it played them straight. And sometimes you can just imagine a character or historical personage saying something, even if they never actually did.
Sarah Vowell wrote an essay, “Democracy and Things Like That,” in which she mentions how Al Gore was attacked for claiming to have discovered Love Canal when he actually never did anything of the sort. He said “that was the one that started it all” of a letter from a high school student in Toone, Tennessee about bad drinking water, and was misquoted as saying, “I was the one that started it all.” This fit with the popular rumor that he claimed to have invented the Internet, when as far as I know he actually just said he took the initiative in creating it.
Gore has played along with the joke to some degree; his second guest appearance on Futurama had him introduced as the inventor of the environment. Still, it’s kind of weird when you take someone to task for something they never actually said. Fortunately, pretty much everything is recorded nowadays, much to the chagrin of Donald Trump.