Sunday Pub Quiz: Misquotations

A pub quiz: You are on your honour not to google.

Here are five phrases that are typically quoted today in a way that departs from their original wording. For each misquotation, score 1 point if you can recall the original quote and another point if you can guess the source for the original quote. If you score 7 or more out of a possible 10, I for one will be highly impressed. Answers after the jump.

1. Pride goeth before a fall.

2. Bubble bubble, toil and trouble.

3. Money is the root of all evil.

4. Gild the lily.

5. Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.


1. Pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Source: Proverbs 16:18 (You don’t need the chapter and verse to get the point for guessing the source, but if you said “The Bible” score only 1/4 point, if you guessed the right testament but not the book score only 1/2 point).

2. Double, double toil and trouble. Source: Macbeth. Take 1/2 point if you guessed Shakespeare but could not recall the play.

3. For the love of money is the root of all evil. Source: 1 Timothy 6:10 (Score as question 1).

4. To gild refined gold, to paint the lily. Source: Shakespeare again, this time from King John (Score as question 2).

5. Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink. Source: Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Score 1/2 point if you guessed Coleridge but couldn’t recall the exact poem.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

24 thoughts on “Sunday Pub Quiz: Misquotations”

  1. Is there anyone, anywhere, ever, who could get Coleridge but not get that it was from RotAM? Did somebody guess Daffodils?

    1. In this case, if you know the poet you know the poem. As for Daffodils, I could have sworn that’s what #2 was from.

    2. @calling all toasters: People mix up famous poets and famous poems all the time. For example, some people think Coleridge wrote Daffodils.

      1. Speaking of that god-awful “Daffodils” poem by Wordsworth, there was a fabulous piece in the Atlantic in 2002, which I quote here:

        “Harry Mathews performed an Oulipian exercise called “N plus 7” on the Wordsworth poem. “N” stands for “noun.” To use the method on prose, one locates in the dictionary a noun found in the subject text, counts to the seventh noun from it, and substitutes that for the original. With poetry, especially classical poetry, one may choose to respect the meter and rhyme of the poem being transformed, in which case one would examine every noun (excluding proper nouns) after the seventh one until finding a match. The alphabetical gap between the original and the substitution, therefore, can be quite large. Mathews, who respected Wordsworth’s meter and rhyme in his N-plus-7 version of “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” had to traverse many dictionary entries before finding a noun that rhymed with “daffodil” and was, like “daffodil,” a dactyl—three syllables with the accent on the first syllable. The word he came upon was “imbecile.”

        The first stanza is given thus:

        “I wandered lonely as a cloud
        That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
        When all at once I saw a crowd,
        A host, of golden imbeciles;
        Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
        Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. ”

        Then the N+7 procedure is performed on every noun in the poem, which is gloriously transfigured thus:

        “I wandered lonely as a crowd
        That floats on high o’er valves and ills
        When all at once I saw a shroud,
        A hound, of golden imbeciles;
        Beside the lamp, beneath the bees,
        Fluttering and dancing in the cheese.

        Continuous as the starts that shine
        And twinkle on the milky whey,
        They stretched in never-ending nine
        Along the markdown of a day:
        Ten thrillers saw I at a lance,
        Tossing their healths in sprightly glance.

        The wealths beside them danced; but they
        Out-did the sparkling wealths in key:
        A poker could not but be gay,
        In such a jocund constancy:
        I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
        What weave to me the shred had brought:

        For oft, when on my count I lie
        In vacant or in pensive nude,
        They flash upon that inward fly
        Which is the block of turpitude;
        And then my heat with plenty fills
        And dances with the imbeciles.”

        A decided improvement.

        1. This also puts me in mind of Spike Milligan’s improvement of Masefield’s “Sea Fever””

          “I must go down to the sea again,
          the lonely sea and the sky:
          I left my vest and socks there –
          I wonder if they’re dry?”

          Which in turn reminds me of a brilliant send-up of A.E. Housman by the Gerald Samper character in one of James Hamilton Paterson’s wonderful comic novels, I think “Amazing Disgrace”:

          From Ludlow to Church Stretton,
          From Plaish to Acton Scott,
          The pretty lads would bet on
          The first to tie the knot.

          Once spoke a lad from Haydon,
          “I’d sooner lie in hell
          Than meddle with a maiden
          From Ashford Carbonel.”

          We laughed and joked, but blighted,
          My hidden heart did sigh
          As one by one they plighted
          And home alone went I.

          I thought to hear their laughter
          As my own knot I tied
          And the noose beneath the rafter
          Swung dancing side to side.

          The lads who once were pretty
          Laughed from their marriage bed:
          “How can you write a ditty
          If you’re alread dead?”

          1. What! Still alive at twenty two,
            A fine upstanding lad like you?
            Sure, if your throat is hard to slit,
            Slit your girl’s and swing for it.

  2. Four and a half.
    Sources:1) Proverbs 2) Macbeth 3) New Testament 4)zero 5)RoATM

    The only original wording I got was “the love of money…”: comes from arguing with right-wingers who insist that Jesus was a Tea-partier.

    The other one they fight against is the “rich man,camel, eye of a needle” where they simply invent a small gate in the walls of Jerusalem where a wealthy merchant would have to unload 10% of his goods to get through, thus proving that any tax of over 10% is unBiblical.

  3. Weird, I knew it was “paint lilies” — but would have sworn it was from one of the New Testament parables. Yes, I’m that much of a Bible scholar.

  4. I got all of these, for a score of 10.

    The first should be “pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” in the KJV. I think. Haven’t looked it up.

    The third furnishes the theme of one of the Canterbury Tales, the Pardoner’s Tale, I think, which uses what I assume to be the Vulgate wording, “radex malorum est cupiditas”.

    The “to gild refined gold, to paint the lily” line, which makes a lot more sense than the usual misquotation, is the only thing I know from “King John”. Is there anything else of note in that play?

    I agree that it’s hard to imagine knowing that the “water, water” quotation is from Coleridge and not knowing it’s the Ancient Mariner. More likely, I think, knowing Ancient Mariner and forgetting who wrote it.

    Okay, how about “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”?

    “Tomorrow to fresh fields and pastures new”?

    1. Okay, how about “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”? Is arguably a correct quotation – you’re just leaving out the “That which we call…” at the beginning. (Romeo & Juliet)

      “Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new” (Milton, Lycidas) Does the strike tag work on this site?

      1. Okay, my Juliet quotation, or misquotation, was argumentative. “By any other name” is the text of the First Quarto of “Romeo and Juliet”, an artifact almost universally considered a “bad” quarto. The Second Quarto (a “good” one) and the First Folio (and the quartos in between) all give “a rose by any other word would smell as sweet” (or “sweete”). That many subsequent editors of the play have chosen the (bad) Q1 reading puzzles and annoys me, and constitutes a sort of self-misquoting text.

        1. but considering that Juliet is complaining about Romeo’s (family) name, it makes sense to put ‘name’ in the phrase about the rose. Given the variety of texts available, why not use whatever combination makes the best sense?

          1. Well, modern editors who take one from column a, three from column b, and two from column c are creating synthetic literature, which is especially problematic with Hamlet, which exists in two “good” texts that differ substantially from each other. And besides, the Juliet dame begins this very passage with “What’s in a name?” The whole name construct is very firmly established without repeating the word “name”, which even without “by any other name” occurs five times in eleven lines.

  5. One more thing I’m reminded of. Samuel Barber wrote a musical setting of Matthew Arnold’s justly famous poem “Dover Beach”. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau very famously recorded it with a little mistake. The poem opens:

    The sea is calm to-night,
    The tide is full, the moon lies fair
    Upon the straits; — on the French coast the light
    Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
    Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

    Fischer-Dieskau quite distinctly sings “on the French toast the light gleams and is gone”.

    You can hear it here:

    Although the second track is listed as “Dover Beach, Op. 3 (Instrumental)”, it is decidedly a recording of DF-D singing about the French toast.

  6. I got all the quotations and rough sources but not detailed sources: I thought 1 was Ecclesiastes, 3 was one of the major prophets (perhaps Isaiah), and 4 was Hamlet (when he talks to the Players about hamming it up).

  7. What does everyone have against “Daffodils”?

    I’ll be so glad when the tyranny of modernism passes and everything does not have to be ironic all of the time.

Comments are closed.