We already know that dead people can vote, but here’s a new one for you: they can plagiarize, too. A few years ago, I read a “George Orwell” quotation that had begun to gain some currency: “The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.” The problem is, Orwell never said it. And I ought to know.
Because I said it.
(Or, to be precise, I wrote it.)
I originated the saying – and it’s safe to aver that it has achieved saying status – in my 2009 piece “Stopping Truth at the Border: Banning Michael Savage from Britain.” So you can imagine my surprise when I learned people were quoting it and that Orwell was taking credit for it. Just goes to show you: never trust a socialist.
Joking aside, Orwell said many wise things and turned many a colorful phrase, and the saying does sound “Orwellesque.” This is possibly why people attributed it to him, and that I’d quoted Orwell in my article makes such confusion even more understandable. It’s also likely, however, that someone wanted to use the line but supposed that claiming Orwell pedigree gave it added weight (I can’t imagine why).
Anyway, when I first learned that WikiQuote pegged it as one of Orwell’s, I sent the site a friendly email, modest in tone, that basically stated, “It’s mine, mine, MINE!” The response was that there was nothing they could do – readers had to make the changes. So, self-serving though it was, I made the edit.
Yet since then, the Orwell attributions have only increased. I was reading Jihad Watch on Saturday, and, lo and behold, a reader under the piece here used the line, giving the 1984 author full credit. So, out of curiosity, I checked the precise saying on Google and got 33,800 pages’ worth of results – virtually every one of which, as far as I could see, cited Orwell. This includes GoodReads.com, a site I’ve often used for research.
So it just goes to show you: “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes,” as Mark Twain said.
Except he never said it.
That’s a misattribution, too, according to Quote Investigator. It appears that satirist Jonathan Swift expressed such a sentiment in entirely different words in 1710, and the saying evolved from there. Twain first got credit for it in 1919 –nine years after his death.
So while an apocryphal line tells us “dead men tell no tales,” they certainly can tell tall ones.