Top 10 Misquotations
The fabulous misquotation by The New York Times on the day of Lady Thatcher’s death, “Turn if you like; the lady’s not for turning,” suggests another subject for a Top 10. As I argued the other day, what Mrs Thatcher actually said
was one of the best-crafted word plays in modern English speech-writing, transforming the familiar phrase “U-turn” into a defiant statement, with its emphatic rhythm, and someone who knew nothing about it, who had plainly never heard the speech, had mangled it.
Of course, the NYT’s was an unusual example, quickly corrected.
Another misquotation was more persistent. Scores of commentary articles asserted that Lady Thatcher had once said that her greatest legacy was either Tony Blair or New Labour. As far as I know, she never said any such thing. The absence of quotation marks in any part of the claim was a giveaway. She once said something about hoping that British politics could become more like the American, where the Republicans and Democrats both accept the free market, and I think she expressed later some satisfaction that this had come about. She also did say shortly before the 1997 election: “Tony Blair won’t let Britain down.” But it is important to get these things right, and in the digital age there is less excuse for getting them wrong.
So, what’s your pet hate? Having its tail pulled. Yes, yes, very droll. I mean, what are your most irritating misquotations?
I have complained at some length about: “It’s the economy, stupid;” “Events, dear boy, events;” “A week is a long time in politics” (both of which are “attributed” rather than recorded quotations); and, “We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, although that is a selective quotation of Peter Mandelson rather than an actual misquotation.
And let me know if you have any more nominations for new Top 10s, soon to feature in the award-winning New Review colour supplement to The Independent on Sunday.Tagged in: harold macmillan, Harold Wilson, james carville, margaret thatcher, peter mandelson, tony blair, top 10
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