Everyone has their own mantra—if you don’t, you should—but it’s extremely important to pick one that a. fits your personality and / or beliefs and b. actually know the full and true meaning of it. Below are ten of the most misused, misattributed, and misunderstood famous quotes that will make you rethink your next tattoo.
1. Famous Quote: “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Most people ignore the middle of the poem, which makes sense because it’s not nearly as Pinterest-y. It reads: “Though as for that the passing there had worn them really about the same, and both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black.” Basically, Frost is saying that either road is equally interchangeable and therefore makes no difference between the two paths.
Robert Frost even admitted that he wrote the poem for fellow poet, Edward Thomas, who he frequented walks with. Amused by his friend’s regretting taking one of two paths because they might have missed something cool and fueled by throwing as much shade as one possibly can in that day and age, Frost put pen to paper to make a joke at his flighty friend’s expense.
2. Famous Quote: “Star-Crossed Lovers”
Yes, “star-crossed lovers” sounds awfully romantic when thinking about Romeo and Juliet, but Shakespeare didn’t mean it that way—in fact, no one did. While star-crossed lovers are fated, they’re inherently fated to die. You know, sort of like how Romeo and Juliet did. “Star-crossed” in general means ill-fated—as though the stars are not favoriting you. Keep that in mind before you write it on a Valentine’s Day card.
3. Famous Quote: “Money is the root of all evil.”
Not quite. The love of money is the root of all evil, according to Timothy 6:10 from the King James Bible. The direct quote is: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Money isn’t the actual root of evil, it’s the horrible people that covet it.
4. Famous Quote: “The Devil is in the details.”
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a famous German-born architect, really said, “God is in the details.” He’s also credited with another famous aphorism: “Less is more.” He actually did mean that one the way he said it. Which is great because the laziness of his quoters meant less work and more publicity for him, so I guess it all works out.
5. Famous Quote: “Blood is thicker than water.”
The original meaning of this phrase is the exact opposite of what so many siblings tattoo on their ankles. An earlier proverb preached, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” In this case, “water of the womb” refers to family while “blood of the covenant” means blood shed by soldiers. Basically it means that those you shed blood with are your true family, not those losers you’re only connected to by water.
6. Famous Quote: “Curiosity killed the cat.”
The popular version is again abridged from a longer statement: “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.” The half changes the entire meaning. For example: without it, it’s advising not to over-analyze something. Using the full quote, it’s advising you to analyze up and down, left and right until you’re satisfied with what you’ve learned—the exact opposite of what we think it means. However, feel free to continue using it for people that won’t stop bugging you—I know I will.
7. Famous Quote: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Much like the 2nd Amendment, people tend to only know the first portion of this. However, I much prefer the full version of the quote, found in a book of French proverbs (Li Proverbe au Vilain) dating back to 1190, which is as follows: “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it burned in one.” Two life lessons for the price of one!
8. Famous Quote: “Nice guys finish last.”
Spoken by baseball player Leo Ernest Durocher, the full quote reads: “All nice guys. They’ll finish last.” The MBA infielder later clarified the quote that became synonymous with being in the friendzone, saying,“I never did say that you can’t be a nice guy and win. I said that if I was playing third base and my mother rounded third with the winning run, I’d trip her up.”
Though he claimed that the quote “isn’t how he meant it at all,” it kind of is—and a little more extreme. It’s apparently not about guys that don’t have a chance, it’s about assaulting your own mother to get what you want. No wonder his nickname was “Leo the Lip.”
9. Famous Quote: “Let them eat cake.”
The quote was used to indicate the decadence of Versailles and the royals and was anti-monarchist propaganda used by opponents to discredit them as rules of “the people.” The “cake” line comes from Jean-Jacques Rosseau’s Confessions (a book written when the decadent queen was only 7-years-old): “I recalled the make-shift of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread and who replied: ‘Let them eat brioche’.”
10. Famous Quote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
The true irony of the most quoted Voltaire line is that it was never said by Voltaire. Fast forward to 1906, over 200 years after the figure of French Enlightenment passed away, and meet English author Evelyn Beatrice Hall. Author of The Life of Voltaire and The Friends of Voltaire wrote the famous quote, “I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It” in the latter.
To be fair, Hall did write it as an illustration of the famous Frenchman’s resolution in his beliefs. I can only imagine she must feel a bit like Eminem in this meme: