Separate the quote from its author

Why are so many quotes on the internet misattributed to Albert Einstein?

Ernest Hemingway once said, ‘It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.’ That’s a pretty impressive thing to say. I used it as my email signature for a number of years. The towering American writer makes a compelling point – one that reminds us not to lose track of the present moment in pursuit of a ‘promised land’.

But I might just have pulled a fast one on you. Those lines, although often attributed to Hemingway, belong instead to Ursula K. Le Guin – an extraordinary author, but not as towering a personality as Hemingway.

Here’s an article, headlined ‘Hemingway’s stolen quotation‘, that mentions about how that quote was stolen from Le Guin. But wait a minute. Why is that article headlined ‘Hemingway’s stolen quote’, and not ‘Le Guin’s stolen quote’? The second title would have been more honest, but would have had fewer clicks. Ironically, the author of that article is guilty of the same crime that he goes on to explain from atop a pedestal.

Let’s look at that quote once again. Turns out that it doesn’t apply in every situation. If it is the journey that matters and not the end, what about vagabonds, tramps and wandering generalists who keep switching fields because of perpetual dissatisfaction? But Hemingway said it, so it must be true.

The truth is nuanced and never succinct. A pithy quotation applies only to a narrow window of situations. Most people use quotations and credit it to a towering personality to quell the questioning voices and slip their point in through the backdoor. As critical thinkers, we ought to separate the quote from its author.

Forget for a moment that Albert Einstein or Ernest Hemingway said something and instead imagine that your loony uncle twice removed says it. Would it still hold true?

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