1. Let Them Eat Cake
This phrase is often brought up to exemplify how far-removed from the masses the leaders can be. The popular story claims that Queen Marie Antoinette said this when she heard that her people were starving because of lack of bread. The nonchalant attitude embodied by this phrase lead to the French revolution during which Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XVI were decapitated.
However, Marie Antoinette never utter this phrase, the author of the famous quote being most likely the wife of king Louis XIV who was also named Marie. Even more, the phrase is interpreted by some historians as a direct reference to a French law forcing bakeries to sell their cakes cheaper if their supply of bread was sold out. It might very well be that this phrase, used as a criticism of monarchy was actually uttered as a way to help French people purchase something, anything to eat.
2. Elementary My Dear Watson.
This famous phrase is recognized worldwide as belonging to Sherlock Holmes, and is considered as much a staple of the British detective as his pipe and hat are. However, the character of Sherlock Holmes never utters this quote during the whole book series. The closest we ever come is in a long dialogue where after a brilliant deduction by Sherlock, Watson exclaims:
“Elementary,” said he [Sherlock].
While catchy, this sentence is clearly not the highlight of the book or even the highlight of this particular dialogue. In fact there is somewhat of a mystery as to how this phrase became as popular as it currently is. One explanation might be the 1929 Sherlock Holmes movie where the quote is first mentioned in its modern version. However, the movie might have just been using an already popular quote to make the character more memorable.
3. GOD Helps Those Who Help Themselves.
This phrase is often mentioned as a passage from the Bible, however nowhere in any translation of the book does the quote appear. It’s also attributed to Ben Franklin, however that is also wrong the most likely author being the British political theorist Algernon Sydney in 1698 in an article titled Discourses Concerning Government. Although he never actually uses these exact words, the idea conveyed is that divinity cannot replace human actions.
What is really interesting about this phrase is that the Bible repeatedly goes against this quote, saying that salvation lies only in God, who will save the helpless.
4. Beam Me Up Scotty.
When mentioning the series Star Trek people are very likely to say the famous phrase “Beam me up Scotty,” even if they have no clue who Scotty is or what it’s referring to. This is presumably the phrase captain Kirk uses at the end of a show, when Mr. Scott teleports him back to the ship. However, the phrase is never really uttered on the show or in any of the movies. The closest version of the quote can be heard in the Star Trek IV movie when Captain Kirk says “Beam me up, Mr. Scott.” The difference is very small, merely a more formal usage of Scott versus Scotty, but fans of the show have argued for years that Captain Kirk would never use the diminutive Scotty.
In the same category of slightly mispronounced quotes we have the famous: “Luke, I’m your father,” which should be: “No, Luke I am your father.” Once more the public remembers the contracted, more informal version of the phrase, which would be out of character in the actual movie. While these small differences seem trivial, fans of both the Star Trek and the Star Wars series can be very adamant about the correct versions of their favorite quotes.
5. That's One Small Step For Man.
The famous phrase uttered by Neil Armstrong as he first stepped on the moon should have originally been “That’s one small step for a man…” However, static from the transmission cut out the “a”. Normally this wouldn’t have been very notable but the sentence delivered by Armstrong doesn’t really make grammatical sense. By using “man” instead of “a man” Armstrong’s quote is nonsensical if carefully analyzed.
The mistake was quickly discovered and Armstrong made several public statements trying to change the phrase to its correct and intended form. However, as we should already know, by reading the other entries on this list, the public doesn’t really care about perfect grammar and the incorrect sentence entered the pantheon of famous phrases.
6. The Ends Justify The Means.
This quote from Machiavelli is actually completely opposed to the actual phrase used in the original text of the Prince. In his original essays Machiavelli says: “”Si guarda al fine” – “One must consider the end result,” which is the equivalent of him saying: “the ends don’t always justify the means.” A single phrase changes the whole meaning of the text instead of arguing that politicians must be ruthless as long as they meet a greater goal, Machiavelli e tries to say that we must always consider if things are worth the sacrifices and hardships we must endure.
This is an extremely interesting example or misinterpretation. Based on this miss-quote as well as rumors and misinterpretation of his works Machiavelli has come to embody the very concept of evil tyrant, while the man was most likely a political visionary and a promoter of enlightened ideas such as representative rule.
7. Religion Is The Opiate Of The Masses.
This is another example of a famous political thinker whose words were misinterpreted by following generations. Not only does Marx never say directly that religion is the opiate of the masses; his words might have had a completely different meaning at the time they were said. The original quote from Marx’s critique of Hegel’s work is as follows: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
The phrase is a bit ambiguous, but it should be pretty obvious that Marx doesn’t see opium as a mind clouding substance as we think of it today. Considering that at the time this was written opiates were legal and widely available, it becomes obvious that Marx meant something different with this passage. Some interpretations of the passage, based on the fact that Opium was considered a useful medicine in some parts of Europe, even suggest that Marx meant that religion is a positive thing which can help humans elevate themselves above their current position.
8. Money Is The Root Of All Evil.
This phrase is a loose interpretation of the original “The love of money is the root of all evil,” which is a phrase used the New Testament by Apostle Paul. However, even this slightly different phrase is a miss-translation of the original Greek which says: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.” It’s easy to see how this is actually not referring to actual money or wealth, but greed. Furthermore, this sentence doesn’t claim that greed is the source of everything evil; instead it just causes some problems.
The stronger meaning of the sentence probably came by during the industrial revolution as our society became more and more capitalistic and focused on accumulating wealth.
Needlessly to say this is not the only example of phrases being translated poorly from Greek to English. The Bible is filled with words that could have double meanings, such as the old Hebrew for Earth, used in the story of Noah’s ark. Earth could also mean land or nation, an interpretation that would make the ancient flood that wiped out all life on Earth a much less epic event.