This week’s Skeptoid podcast about Muzak showed how things become embedded in “popular knowledge”. Pop culture quotes are a paraphrase of a cultural ideas. They become a common social references. Memorable quotes become a place holder for cultural knowledge. Cultural knowledge, like our brain’s memory, is unreliable and subject to fluid interpretation. Pop culture quotes often are distorted or incorrect variations on the original. Here is a short list of a few that make me cringe whenever I hear them. They are often heard but rarely correctly.
In no particular order.
- “I cannot tell a lie. It was I who chopped down the cherry tree.” George Washington. Historians believe the whole concept to be a fabrication. This legend originates from biographer Parson Weems in 1800’s. The biography line is “I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.”.
- “Beam Me Up Scotty“. As a life long Trekkie, I can verify that this never happened in the original series, or any film, including the most recent re-boot. The closest line is “Scotty beam us up“.
- “S’ils n’ont plus de pain, qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” or Marie Antoinette “Let them eat cake!” Strictly translated”If they have no bread, let them eat cake!” Attribution by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, considered apocryphal due to his pro revolutionary propaganda and lack of supporting evidence.
- “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.“. Dorothy Wizard of Oz. Though often quoted as such the actual quote is “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.“
- “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!“. William Congreve‘s actual quote “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned“.
- Same author another misquote”Music hath charms to soothe a savage beast“, actual quote “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast“, William Congreve.
- “Luke, I am your father” Darth Vader Star Wars. Sorry the actual quote was more contextual and less concise. ” DV-“obi-wan never told you what happen to your father?” L- “he told me enough, he told me you killed him.”, DV-“No, I am your father.“
- “Spare the Rod Spoil the Child“, The Bible Proverbs. Actual quote “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” A little less pithy I would say.
- “Mirror Mirror on the wall who’s the fairest of them all?” In the iconic Disney movie Snow White the line is actually “Magic Mirror on the Wall, who is the Fairest one of all?“
- “Play it again, Sam” Casablanca. The closet Bogart came was”You played it for her, you can play it for me…If she can stand it, I can. Play it!“. Bergman’s closest variation “Play it once, Sam, for old time’s sake…Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’.” this one honestly taught me to never trust my memory. I can still conjurer up the image of Bogart saying this exact line in the movie. I suspect it is my brain linking the movie with some other parody, resulting in a convincing but ultimately wrong memory.
There are many more. Feel free to share your favorite. Like the idea that days are shorter in the winter and longer in the summer. Questioning “common knowledge” teaches us how important it is to be skeptical. Scientific Skepticism teaches us to be critical thinkers, even though we often fail.