People love a good quote, and the Internet has made it ridiculously easy to find the perfect one for any occasion. But there’s one big catch. Many of history’s most quotable figures (think Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr.) simply never uttered some of the most familiar quotes people attribute to them.

The whole business of misattributing quotes certainly didn’t begin with the Internet—it’s been going on as long as anyone can remember: Once a famous person gets a reputation for saying witty, profound or inspiring things, people tend to attribute quotes to them that sound like something they might have said, but that they didn’t actually say.

Garson O’Toole—a pen name used by the writer who bills himself “The Internet’s Foremost Quote Investigator”—calls people like Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker, Albert Einstein, Yogi Berra, Winston Churchill and Marilyn Monroe “quote superstars.” Such famous and charismatic people often become “hosts” for quotations they never uttered, O’Toole writes in his new book, “Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations.”

Albert Einstein (Credit: Fred Stein Archive)
Albert Einstein (Credit: Fred Stein Archive)

For example, take these often repeated and reprinted Albert Einstein quotes—none of which the great physicist actually said:

“Not everything that counts can be counted.”

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

“Two things inspire me to awe–the starry heavens above and the moral universe within.”

“Education is that which remains, if one has forgotten everything he learned in school.”

“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”

 

Now here’s the real deal on these quotes:

“Not everything that counts can be counted.
As O’Toole writes in his book, credit for this quote should go to the sociology professor William Bruce Cameron, who included it in a couple of articles and a 1963 textbook. Einstein apparently wasn’t associated with the saying until the mid-1980s, some three decades after his death.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
A favorite of politicians (and pretty much everybody else), this quote has been wrongly attributed to Benjamin Franklin as well as—but there’s no evidence either of them said it. “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein,” an authoritative complication of his most memorable utterances, identified the quote as a misattribution, and mentioned its use in the 1983 novel “Sudden Death” by Rita Mae Brown. On his website, Quote Investigator, O’Toole traced, the link between insanity and repetition back to at least the 19th century, but noted its use in a Narcotics Anonymous pamphlet as well as novels (including Brown’s), TV shows and various other sources.

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
No substantive evidence exists suggesting Einstein made this statement, though it (as O’Toole wrote on his website) has been attributed to him in at least one self-help book. In fact, the quote can be traced to a well-established allegory involving animals doing impossible things, used to illustrate the fallacy of judging someone by a skill or ability that person (or animal) does not possess.

“Two things inspire me to awe—the starry heavens above and the moral universe within.”
In fact, this one is a version of a statement made not by Einstein but by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant in his famous “Critique of Practical Reason” (1889). The actual quote is: “Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and moral law within me.”

“Education is that which remains, if one has forgotten everything he learned in school.”
In “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein,” editor Alice Calaprice clarified that Einstein agreed with this statement, but did not actually say it. In fact, he was quoting a passage by an anonymous “wit” in a chapter he wrote on education, included in his book “Out of My Later Years.”

“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”
This admittedly vivid explanation of Einstein’s most famous theory is not something he himself said, but comes from an anecdote that was reportedly circulating around him in 1929, when it appeared in a New York Times article about him. The reporter put the anecdotal statement in quotation marks, and poof! A famous (and most likely fake) quote was born.