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They Never Said That
The popular culture has always had an uncanny ability to misuse, misinterpret, misrepresent, and misquote. Its adherents believe that Columbus discovered
America and George Washington had wooden teeth and dog saliva cleanses flesh wounds.
The other day I heard a goofy radio guy say, “Till death do we part.” He thought “do us part” was ungrammatical. (He was
wrong: it’s not we who are doing the parting. The line means “until death parts
Here are some other familiar sayings that have run into a little turbulence along the way …
• “Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink.” The words “and not a” can’t be
found in the famous couplet from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1798). Here is how Coleridge
wrote it: “Water, water, everywhere, / Nor any drop to drink.”
• “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” There are several memorable lines from Alexander
Pope’s 1711 poem “An Essay on Criticism.” This is almost one of them. But Pope wrote that “a little learning” is a dangerous
thing. Knowledge and learning are hardly synonyms.
• “Gild the lily” is supposedly from Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of King John. The correct quotation is, “To gild refined gold, to paint the
• “Come up and see me some time” was actress Mae West’s signature line, but the bodacious blonde didn’t say
it. In She Done Him Wrong (1933), Ms. West says to Cary Grant, “Why don’t you come up some time and see me.”
• “Play it again, Sam.” That line might put a lump in your throat if you’ve ever seen the 1942
movie Casablanca. But it’s nowhere to be found in that great film. What Ingrid Bergman says is, “Play it once, Sam. For old times’ sake.”
• “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Everyone knows this patronizing utterance by Sherlock Holmes to his overmatched
colleague Dr. Watson, but the line appears nowhere in any of the books and tales by Holmes’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I’m told it comes
from the 1929 film The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Watson says, “Amazing, Holmes.” Holmes replies, “Elementary, my dear Watson,
• “Beam me up, Scotty” was never said by William Shatner’s Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek TV
• “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast.” This is a misquotation from William Congreve’s play The Morning Bride. Congreve (1670-1729) wrote “savage breast,” not “beast.” I’m guessing the error can be
attributed in part to good old American prudery, as demonstrated by this passage from a recent newspaper column: “He actually wrote ‘the savage
breast.’ But this being a family newspaper, we went with the popular misquote.” Very good, sir. And tonight’s special is mesquite-grilled
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Rules for Writing Good: Writing Tips
Here are more selections from a perverse set of rules that are guilty of the very mistakes they seek to prevent. English teachers, students, scientists, and writers have been circulating these self-contradictory rules for more than a century.
1. Its important to use apostrophe’s in the right places.
2. Don’t abbrev.
3. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.