It started with a book that I was reading in which the author used the phrase, “to mulch it over” in describing the contemplation by a character. Suffice it to say that this writer will never win an award as the world’s best author. The phrase she was trying to use was “to mull it over.” This got me to thinking of some of the most common literary misquotes that I know.
Here’s a few. See if you can give the actual quote. Answers can be found at the very end of this blog.
1. "Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink!” resulted from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner meaning that the speaker was at sea with salt water surrounding them but none of the water is fit to drink.
2. "Pride cometh before a fall” originated from The Bible Psalms 16:18 meaning that a person who becomes so full of pride becomes arrogant which often leads to disappointment due to wrong decisions.
3. “Elementary, my dear Watson” attributed to the fictional character, Sir Sherlock Holmes, in reply to his assistant, Watson. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Return of Sherlock Holmes is the key to this misquote.
4. “Find a penny, pick it up” stems from the first line of a poem in the children’s book, The Real Mother Goose. This simplistic misquote is actually a mondegreen, meaning that the phrase is misheard, thus misspoken.
5. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” is derived from William Congreve’s play, The Mourning Bride. Angering a lady could be trouble!
6. "At one fatal swoop” is a misquote from Shakespeare’s MacBeth. The phrase is about a hawk diving to kill its prey, and is not about a death fall. What’s the real quote?
7. "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here” developed from Dante’s Inferno where the inscriptions on the gates of Hell have the slightly changed, but greatly different literary inscription.
8. “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast” arose from William Congreve’s play, The Mourning Bride where one would have trouble finding that musically inclined monster.
9. “Theirs but to do or die” is a subtle change from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade. This poem is a memorial to a suicidal military charge by British soldiers during the Crimean War. Given this information, can you guess what the correct quote is?
10. “Open says-a-me!” seems a reasonable phrase for Ali Baba to use to open the cave of treasures in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, however the correct phrase might make you hungry. What’s the phrase?
1. “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.
2. “Pride goeth before destructions and an haughty spirit before a fall.” KJV
3. “Excellent!” I cried “Elementary” said he.
4. “Find a penny and pick it up.”
5. "Heaven has a rage like love to hatred turned. / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”
6. “At one fell swoop”
7. “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
8. “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.”
9. “Theirs but to do and die.”
10. Open sesame!”