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The Curious Case of Misquotation

Update 11/07/14: We have gotten more responses to this blog entry, than any other blog entry we have ever written. The most recent commenter writes: “It’s from a letter Fitzgerald wrote to his daughter, Scottie.” I just looked through Scott Fitzgerald’s Letters to His Daughter, and I couldn’t find any such quotation. Although there are some lovely tidbits of advice! Here is one such tidbit, as he asks his daughter about the man that interested her when she was eighteen. The letter is dated August 24, 1940.:

“You haven’t given me much idea of __________. Would he object to your working—outside the house I mean? Excluding personal charm, which I assume, and the more conventional virtues which go with success in business, is he his own man? Has he any force of character? Or imagination and generosity? Does he read books? Has he any leaning toward the arts and sciences or anything beyond creature comfort and duck-shooting? In short, has he the possibilities of growth that would make a lifetime with him seem attractive? These things don’t appear later—they are either there latently or they will never be there at all.”


ORIGINAL POST

Heavens to Murgatroyd, I’ve come across another faux quotation on the Internet. Actually in this case, it was actually a quotation that a friend of mine posted (not knowing putting up faux quotations in front of a Reference Librarian is like putting a red flag in front of a bull). Trooper that she is, she was happy to correct the attribution once I explained the details.

This was the quote as she wrote it:

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

And it was attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Well, it didn’t sound exactly like F. Scott Fitzgerald to me, so I thought I’d investigate. As it turned out my friend believed that it was a quotation from Fitzgerald’s short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. Happily we had a copy of the short story on the shelf … no such quotation in the story.

So … where else might it be? Well, I knew there had been a movie, and I found a copy of the screenplay. Here is the quotation I found:

“For what it’s worth … it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”

The screenplay for the film was written by a fellow named Eric Roth, so I think it is safe to say that he wrote these lines. (Although my favorite attribution of the quote is Brad Pitt ... because he said the lines, so he must have written them? ) You’ll notice there are some differences between even these two quotations … the most significant being the word strength substituted for the word courage. But guess what … Brad Pitt actually says the word strength when he says the line … so did he make the change or did someone on the set make the change? Even with a straightforward quote, there seem to always be questions. Want to see Brad Pitt say the lines? You can see that on Youtube.

Just another cautionary tale … don’t believe everything you read on the Internet! (And if you want to read about a faux E. B. White quotation you can read my blog entry here.)

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Comments

1. Jill | Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 1:56 pm

Thanks, Jody! One of our favorite quotes (although we don’t know where it started!) is “Librarians the original search engines.”

2. jody | Tue, Mar 24, 2015 at 10:03 am

Librarians are my superheroes & this post proves why. The Fitzgerald-as-perky-life-coach quote is doing the rounds again...so thank you so much for steering us towards the correct green light!

3. Another Wheaton IL reader | Tue, Mar 10, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Another reader from Wheaton who googled the supposed Fitzgerald quote - thanks so much for posting this!

4. Jill | Tue, Mar 10, 2015 at 10:08 am

A belated thanks to Wheaton, IL, Elaine, Kelli, and Trudy for all of your comments. I really love that this blog entry is still saving a few people from misquoting Fitzgerald!

5. Trudy Ring | Fri, Feb 27, 2015 at 7:19 pm

I looked this up because a good friend of mine just posted the quote on Facebook. I’m a huge Fitzgerald fan and wanted to share it, but I wanted to make sure it was legit first! I won’t rain on my friend’s parade by saying it’s not FSF, but I won’t share it either. Regarding Scott’s authorship of the quote, I guess a line from a novel by his frenemy Ernest Hemingway would be appropriate here--"Isn’t it pretty to think so?” But there are many other great things worth quoting from Fitzgerald. Now I’ll go back to beating on against the current.

6. Kelli | Thu, Jan 15, 2015 at 4:13 pm

I just love this quote & printed it out on vinyl to make a sign..wanted to double check who quoted it..glad I found this article because Pinterest had it as F. Scott..even just googling it gives you mixed results!! But I’m going with your answer..thanks so much!!

7. Elaine | Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 12:43 pm

I knew from the language that Fitzgerald didn’t write such cheery, inspirational, able-to-be-reduced-to-a-Facebook-post words. I went searching for a serious fact checker and found you!

As Abraham Lincoln wrote, “you can’t believe everything you read on the internet.”

8. Wheaton, IL | Wed, Jan 7, 2015 at 4:06 pm

It didn’t seem like Fitzgerald to me either.  In the process of researching, I came across this blog.  Three cheers for Reference Librarians!

9. Jill | Fri, Nov 7, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Hi Luci, Thanks for your comment. I’ve added a response to the original blog. If you have the date of the letter, I’d be very interested!

Jill

10. Luci | Wed, Nov 5, 2014 at 1:35 am

It’s from a letter Fitzgerald wrote to his daughter, Scottie.

11. ML | Thu, Oct 23, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Thanks for this, all the fake quotes floating around Instagram are driving me insane.

12. Jill | Wed, Sep 17, 2014 at 10:17 am

LisaAR, Thanks for your comment. I am continually delighted that people find this blog entry from 2011!

13. LisaAR | Fri, Sep 12, 2014 at 10:01 am

Yes, thank you! I did a search for the same reason as anc--Pinterest pin that didn’t seem really “Fitzgeraldy” to me. I love that you are digging for the answers like this!

14. Jill | Tue, Aug 19, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Thanks, Eric, for your comment. Of course, now we fell compelled to ask ... in what book did this George Eliot quote appear?

15. Eric L. | Fri, Aug 15, 2014 at 9:35 pm

This quote from Eric Roth seems, in itself, to border on plagiarism.  It is very similar to a George Eliot quote,"it’s never too late to be who you might have been.”

16. Julia | Fri, Feb 28, 2014 at 11:04 pm

THANK YOU. I intuitively felt that this was more certainly NOT Fitzgerald.

17. Casey | Tue, Oct 1, 2013 at 8:23 pm

I just did a search for the quote - and read the entire Benjamin Button story in the process - in an attempt to verify that it was Fitzgerald’s wording. Thank you so much for posting this and clarifying!

18. Vivian | Sat, Jun 29, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Yes, indeed. I wondered about this quote with a sentence that ended in a preposition!

19. Jill | Tue, May 15, 2012 at 4:58 pm

You are most welcome! So glad someone actually came across our library blog investigation on the Fitzgerald quote!

20. anc | Tue, May 15, 2012 at 4:42 pm

hey thanks! I did a google search after reading that quote on Pintrest bc it didn’t seem like Fitzgerald, and I ran across your article in my investigation!

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