“Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.”

On December 29, 1890, U.S. Seventh Cavalry troopers gunned down more than 200 Lakota Indians — including men, women and children — at Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Army initially called it “The Battle of Wounded Knee.” In truth, it wasn’t a battle. Today, it’s generally called what … Read more

“Well, all I know is what I read in the papers.”

The most famous line used by American humorist Will Rogers when he poked fun at the latest antics of politicians or commented on other recent news stories was “Well, all I know is what I read in the papers.”  Many books and websites cite the September 30, 1923 edition of The New York Times as … Read more

“No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

In many books of quotations and on thousands of websites H.L. Mencken is credited with the famous quote “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Most sources fail to mention that this “quote” by “The Sage of Baltimore” is actually the traditional paraphrase of what Mencken actually wrote — not … Read more

“We must love one another or die.”

September 1, 1939 is now known as the day when World War II started. On that day, Germany’s Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler ordered his military forces to invade neighboring Poland. He claimed it was an act of self defense, necessary to protect German citizens and the territorial rights of Germany. “Germans in Poland are persecuted … Read more

The story behind the phrase “The Year of Living Dangerously”

Google has a cool tool for researchers of words and phrases (including quotations) called the Ngram Viewer. It graphs the occurrence of a word or phrase in books published between the years 1500 and 2008. If you do an Ngram search for the phrase “the year of living dangerously,” you’ll see a huge, continuing spike … Read more

“No man is a hero to his valet” – the backstory on a famous proverb and misquote…

  Charlotte Aïssé (1693-1733) was quite a celebrity in France in the early 18th Century — part heroine, part sex symbol, part intellectual. As a child, her father’s palace was raided by the Turks. They took her captive but soon sold her to Count Charles de Ferriol, the French ambassador at Constantinople. She was raised … Read more

“Why are you not here?” – Thoreau’s famous (apocryphal) question to Emerson…

Fake quotes are sometimes harder to identify and debunk than “fake news,” especially when they are cited by hundreds of books and thousands of websites. A good example is the question Henry David Thoreau supposedly asked his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson in July 1846 when Thoreau was jailed overnight in Concord, Massachusetts for refusing to … Read more

“The rich are different”… The legendary “exchange” between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway…

  If you’re a quotation buff, you’ve probably heard of a legendary exchange about “rich people” that supposedly took place between the American novelists F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) and Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). Fitzgerald is usually quoted as saying either “The rich are different from you and me” or “The rich are different from us.” Hemingway … Read more

“There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.”

It is often claimed that the familiar expression of compassion “There, but for the grace of God, go I” is based on a quote by the 16th Century English Protestant clergyman John Bradford. According to tradition, Bradford was a prisoner in the Tower of London when he said it. He had previously been a prominent … Read more

President Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech

One of the famous quotations linked to the date June 26th is a line President John F. Kennedy spoke in German on June 26, 1963: “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Kennedy used the line twice that day in a historic speech in West Berlin, which was then separated from Communist-controlled East Berlin by the Berlin Wall. … Read more