Why do people on the internet blatantly misattribute "inspirational"-type quotes?

This is something which came up inthis thread about glurge attributed to Mark Twain and which I think is worthy of a separate discussion; hence the thread here.

Anyone who’s been on the internet for any length of time will have noticed that as well as the cats, food pics, adult stuff, memes, games, and YouTube videos there’s also a lot of people sharing “Insipirational”-type quotes of the “Live out loud, laugh every day, love everyone and dance like no-one’s watching” variety (Changing fonts and accompanying image of a beach, sunrise, mountain, or Minion optional).

Quite often some of these things are allegedly said by famous people. Allegedly, because to anyone with even a passing familiarity with that famous person knows that Mark Twain wasn’t one for that “Eat Pray Love” sort of thing, Benjamin Disraeli never had anything memorable to say on modern consumer society and the wisdom of Confucius did not directly extend to encouraging people to put their smartphones down and live in the moment.

Or, as that old but apt joke goes: "You can never be sure of the origin of quotes on the internet " - Abraham Lincoln

So, my question: Why do people go around misattributing inspirational/glurge-style quotes to people who patently didn’t make them?

Obviously some of it is honest mistake or confusion, but for something like “Life is short, break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that made you smile” (the example from the other thread) is very obviously not the sort of thing Mark Twain would ever have said.

That sort of thing suggests to me a deliberate attempt to misattribute - the author must know it wasn’t said by whoever they’re claiming it was said by - so why are they misattributing it? What do they hope to gain from that?

People, as a group, are ignorant boobs?

Because why would most people care? The message is what’s important, the attribution is just to give it a patina of authority. Any author is as good as any other in most cases.

It’s not just feel-good glurge; it’s everywhere.

I happen to be a firearm owner who is also extremely liberal (except, of course, on gun control issues). Naturally, I have quite a few friends who are… well, *not *liberal.

The glurge I get from them is always along the lines of:

*The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it.

  • Thomas Jefferson*

I have been completely unsuccessful in convincing them that Jefferson would never have written something like this. it is a sentence written with 20th century idioms (“the beauty of,” when describing the desirability or appropriateness of an idea; the use of “they” to describe some unidentified threat to the republic, or something), and simply would not have been written by someone in Jefferson’s age. To say nothing of the fact that it makes no goddamn sense. Take what? Guns? The 2nd Amendment? Jefferson never wrote so vaguely and incoherently about anything.

And they flood my mailbox with this shit.

Argument from authority.

Because people are more likely to take seriously a statement attributed to someone famously smart.

I believe that is a quote from Thomas Jefferson.

This happens a lot when authors put quotes in their books.

Say Asimov quotes from Rosseau. Careless indexing can make it appear that Asimov originated the quote.

A number of pithy quips are, these days, attributed to Richard Feynman and Stephen Hawking…when these guys were quoting someone else.

“War is hell.” (Be sure to attribute that to me.)

Yup. Also, pithy remarks are often easier to remember than the identity of their originators, so people just attribute the remembered remark to whomever they happen to vaguely associate with it.

People have been habitually doing this since way before the invention of the internet, too.

Before the Web, there were certain personalities that we used to talk about needing to be skeptical about attributions to. There were books about quote misattribution. There were also books of poorly researched quote collections. Certain people were known for having a certain kind of wit, and so quotes of that style got attributed to them. It got to where I was suspicious of anything attributed to Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker. It’s just gotten a lot worse since the Web.

In the early nineties, I created an inspirational quote and licensed it for use
on posters. A magnet company stole it, and misattributed it on their magnets.
They admitted their error, but now the quote has gone viral with the
other guy’s name attached to it. :frowning: It’s nearly impossible to correct
a misconception on the internet!

“Hell is other people.”


Therefore war is other people.

I think that the OP (and correct me if I’m wrong) is thinking more of those quotes that juxtapose deliberately, like this:


The ones that jump out at me are the sappy, witless lines attributed to George Carlin. George would never have spouted such tripe, and since he has died I find it necessary to take offense by proxy.


You’re wrong there, sorry - I’m talking about quotes where it’s fairly obvious the quotee didn’t say the quote, but there’s no humorous effect intended (as in your example).

Quotes with stuff like late 20th century syntax being attributed to people like Benjamin Franklin or Oscar Wilde (and who clearly didn’t speak in the style the quote is in) is the sort of thing I’m talking about.

Possibly because life is like a box of chocolates, or possibly the people who are inspired by drivel on fridge magnets are less likely to display other behaviours like critical thinking [aka elitist cynicism], or perhaps have the breadth of reading or exposure to history to pick out the obvious mistakes.

You got screwed.
-Ron Jeremy

My guess is that it’s mostly omission & ignorance, rather than malice.

Let’s say the columnist for the Sioux Falls Weekly Fishwrap writes something particularly inspirational & witty. Your grandma sees it & thinks you’ll love it, so she copies & pastes it, neglecting to attribute. Off it goes.

At some point in the stream, somebody decides it sounds like something they heard from someone wise and profound, and they slap Ben Franklin or George Carlin on it.

Because we now live in a post-factual world. Only ancient dead-enders like us Dopers care whether or not something is actually TRUE! It’s your OPINION that counts as your personal reality, after all…

/Only partially snark, sadly…

Yes. Go searching for the origins of famous quotes very often, and you’ll start finding that some have uncertain or incorrect attributions going back literally centuries.