How Few of Our Words Are Ours – Or Theirs

The thought that all thought has been already passed through a human brain – and all speech past a tongue – is depressing for some people. I may be one of them.

I bring it upon myself, though, as I read pages of famous quotations by obscure people – and vice versa. Rather than wishing I had said that, I find myself dreading the day when I’ll hear my voice doing so. I hope that when it occurs I shall be sufficiently senile to forget where I heard it, but still compos mentis enough to appreciate the wit.

I also noted this week that quotes can be like adhesive plasters – they can be applied over wounds to help healing or over sores to disguise festering. And quotes need not be attributed to their real authors. If you find someone with a bad reputation saying something witty, you need to find another person to attribute it to – preferably someone that all revere. A famous movie star, if possible, or at least someone who is rich.

If you can’t get rich and famous, select someone who’s been dead a long time – from an era that had incomplete records. If they lived two centuries ago, and have no relatives who can sue you now, you can put any words you wish into their vanished mouths. You can make them support anything you like.

I shall put my time to good use looking for useful sentiments and stirring quotes – to which I can attach my personal banner. Of course it will require some careful research. Finding out that your favourite snappy comments were really the work of George Wallace or William Joyce plays hell with cocktail party conversation. Misattribution to the rescue.

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