By Eldrin Veloso
A lot of people seem to think that replying with quip in the form of a famous quote or posting an evocative literary phrase on Facebook projects intelligence and depth. While we fully support holding the learned and well-read in high regard, we must also discern when a person is just mouthing off what he/she heard to sound smart.
So here’s a handy list of famous lines that people often get wrong either in iteration or meaning. Either by misquotation, lack of research or misunderstanding the author’s intent, it happens all the same. So let’s cue the silent, deriding laughter when we catch people using it incorrectly. Hey, smart-shaming needs a dire counter!
Common use: As a caution for being nosy.
Real use: The whole phrase is, “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.” It can be seen on a 1912 issue of The Titusville Herald. The original intent of the proverb means it can be dangerous to poke your nose around, but it is worth the risk when you’re rewarded with the truth.
Common use: To school people who don’t want to focus on an expertise and just have superficial knowledge of various areas.
Real use: The full phrase of the couplet is, “Jack of all trades, master of none, though oftentimes better than master of one.” While it may be good to be an expert at one thing, it is sometimes better to have bits of knowledge of different topics.
Common use: Motivational excuse for workaholics.
Real use: This phrase is said to have come from Isaiah 48:22, “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.” And if you read the entire chapter, you’ll learn that when we talk about ‘wicked’ here, it’s not a hard worker aiming to be successful. And when we talk about ‘rest’ here, it’s not a power nap. It is almost our civic duty to clear that up every time the phrase is used incorrectly.
Common use: To pay each other a compliment when they think of the same thing at the same time.
Real use: The full proverb goes like this: “Great minds think alike, but fools rarely differ.” It doesn’t mean that when two minds think of the same thing, they’re great. You’ve been warned.
Common use: A quip to justify actions that stem from a sense of nationalism.
Real use: From American statesman Carl Schurz in 1872, the complete phrase is, “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Wrong is wrong, at all costs.
Real use: Lifted from American poet Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken, the original intent of the literary piece is not talking about the other choice. It’s a commentary on how people fixate on the choices and what-ifs when they can’t do anything about going back in time to explore other possibilities. Claiming to have taken the road less traveled is a nonsense oxymoron because there will always be a choice you can’t make and you would never know the outcome.
Common use: To chide people that family is more important than other relationships.
Real use: Ironically, the whole phrase meant the opposite: “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” It actually means that bloodshed in battles or agreements is stronger than relationships borne from biology.
Real use: The phrase comes from English playwright Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus. In the play, Faustus asked the devil Mephistopheles to conjure the image of Helen of Troy, the woman the phrase is pertaining to. The complete line of the play goes like this:
“Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium—
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss—
[kisses her] Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies!—”
The intent of the line does not merely compliment the beauty of Helen, but more, its deadly consequences. In short, it’s not totally a compliment!
What other phrases have we been using wrong? Enlighten us in the comments below!