Instead, shine a light on quote attribution and follow the lead of some social media (and traditional media) mavens who are fighting back and establishing who said what, when. They're taking the only sensible route and serving as verifiers and fact-checkers, something you can consider for famous quotes that emanate from your company, organization, or university. Check out these examples:
- Historic homes are mounting a good defense. Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, is using social media to fight back with a Spurious Quotations page on its website that it's sharing via Facebook and Twitter. George Washington's Mount Vernon has its own spurious quotations page. If you've got a much-misquoted important person in your history, do consider such a page--and be sure to publicize it widely, using all traditional and social channels.
- The Washington Post's Fact Checker does just that on a wide range of supposed facts, including quotations. Here, they take apart a quote used by Ohio Governor John Kasich, attributed to Lincoln, erroneously. Kasich, now a presidential candidate, isn't the only person with his eye on the White House job to misquote: It's happened to the likes of Ronald Reagan and others, so don't assume your quotation is correct if it came out of a president's mouth.
- This Portugese self-help author and life coach found that a wonderful quote from his writings was spreading around Facebook--but attributed to Meryl Streep. So he took to Facebook to re-share the quote, explain the error, and asking fans to re-share the correction, getting a few hundred thousand to like or share the fix.
- The Atlantic took the time to figure out the anatomy of a fake quotation, using one purportedly from Martin Luther King, Jr. that spread around on Facebook. Not a bad guide to what you might need to do as you decide whether to use or lose that quote.
You’ve got to make sure that everything you write will be understood by the audience. There’s a famous story about LBJ going over a draft of a speech by a new speechwriter. He was reading it aloud to [Congressman] Jake Pickle, and he got down to a quotation from Aristotle. LBJ exploded: “Aristotle? Aristotle? Those people don’t know who the hell Aristotle is!” So he took out his fountain pen, crossed out “Aristotle,” and wrote, “As my dear old daddy used to say . . .” Any speechwriter would say that’s fair.I'm not as worried about the paraphrased quote, or even the one attributed to your daddy. But the misattribution issue is not as small a problem as it may seem. Even the U.S. Postal Service misattributed a quote on its Maya Angelou tribute stamp, a mistake so expensive they aren't going to correct it. If you're sharing quotes in speeches or social media, more and more, it pays to spend time fact-checking or getting a librarian or researcher to do that for you. A good start: Buy an office copy of They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions. And if you're in a position to establish what your key figure in history did and did not say, please do--and share it widely.
Got a panel coming up? Whether you're a conference organizer, speaker, or moderator, you'll have a better panel--and a sparkling discussion--if you plan with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 in all ebook formats, it's like having a coach with whom you can prepare and bring on stage with you.