10 Historical Quotes We All Get Wrong

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The quotations below define the figure who said them or the era in which they were spoken. The thing is, none of them are quite right…

1. Let them eat cake

Though most of us know Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI, never said “let them eat cake” when told that the people of France had no bread, it’s too good a line to let go.

The quote comes from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions – written before Marie Antoinette was queen – and is attributed to “a great princess”.

Here’s Kirsten Dunst telling it how it is:

2. I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat and tears

Winston Churchill told the British people he had “nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” after he became Prime Minister during World War II.

The misquotation may have gained traction because of an earlier speech about “new structures of national life erected upon blood, sweat, and tears”, or Lord Byron’s phrase “Blood, sweat, and tear-wrung millions” in his 1823 Age of Bronze.

3. Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely

The historian Lord Acton wrote that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

He could have added that time tends to corrupt quotations, and this one is no exception.

4. Houston, we have a problem

The more I try not to think of this one as I pass through Euston station in London, the louder Tom Hanks says it in my head. But none of the Apollo 13 astronauts actually used it: the line recorded in the log is “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”

The misquotation was made famous by the 1995 Hollywood film Apollo 13, which used “Houston, we have a problem” as its tagline.

5. That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind

While we’re in space, Neil Armstrong has always claimed that he said “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” but either he got it wrong and missed the ‘a’ or it was covered by static interference (or it was edited out by NASA when they put together the fake moon landing package, depending on how you approach this).

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