The Curious Case of Misquotation

Update 1/05/17

Happy New Year all you Scott F. Fitzgerald and Brad Pitt fans! I just wanted to share with you the most recent sharing of this post which was with two fellows who appear to be living in New Zealand. You can read their blog entry on Fitzgerald and Pitt here. As they write: “The above quote is a quote from the movie adaption of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, even though F.Scott Fitzgerald gets a lot of the credit.” Thanks Wayne and Jackson for taking the time to correct the record. This librarian salutes you both!


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.”



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). Trouper 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.)

56 comments on “The Curious Case of Misquotation

  1. anc says:

    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!

  2. Jill says:

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

  3. Vivian says:

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

  4. Casey says:

    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!

  5. Julia says:

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

  6. Eric L. says:

    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.”

    1. Brittany B says:

      The George Eliot quote is also a mis-attribution.

  7. Jill says:

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

  8. LisaAR says:

    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!

  9. Jill says:

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

  10. ML says:

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

  11. Luci says:

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

  12. Jill says:

    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!


  13. Wheaton, IL says:

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

  14. Elaine says:

    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.”

  15. Kelli says:

    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!!

  16. Trudy Ring says:

    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.

  17. Jill says:

    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!

  18. Another Wheaton IL reader says:

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

  19. jody says:

    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!

  20. Jill says:

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

  21. Craig Smith says:

    Librarians rock!

  22. Jin says:

    I, too, saw this on facebook as a Fitzgerald quote and wanted to double-check the source. Thank you for your sleuthing, and for the correct attribution! P.S. We love the Falmouth library!

  23. Jill says:

    Thanks so much Craig & Jin for your comments on this post. It continues to be our most active blog post! We are delighted that people are still finding it, and thanks Jin for letting us know you love our library! We do too!

  24. Jane Gibson says:

    Thank you for this article. I love this quote and will now attribute it to the correct author.

  25. Catherine says:

    Am I the only one bothered by the sketchy grammar?

  26. Megan says:

    I loved this quote and am now so bummed.  Our FCCLA chapter wanted an inspiring F. Scott Fitzgerald quote to go with our “The Great FCCLA” theme using FSF and the roaring 20s.  Even though we loved it we will continue our search for the perfect quote.  Thank you for the information.

  27. Tanya Charbury says:

    I love how you handled this. Facts—what a concept. Seriously, thank you.

  28. Jill says:

    Hi Tanya, You are most welcome! I always appreciate people finding this page & love your comment! Working on a new blog post right now based on a highly quoted Margaret Mead quotation. Jill

  29. Brian says:

    Great quote!

    Thank you for the time you spent researching and sharing your findings.

    I see misquotations fairly often on the internet, I suppose ultimately it is the message that matters, not the author. Although, I am also a Database Admin and responsible for data integrity, so I do value setting the record straight!

  30. Allison says:

    This has ALWAYS driven me NUTS!!! I see it credited to Fitzgerald ALL THE TIME, and with him being my favorite author and Curious Case of Benjamin Button being one of my favorite movies, I have always known it’s not actually a quote by him. Glad to see others are on the same page!

  31. Jill says:

    A belated thanks to both Allison and Brian for their appreciation of this blog entry. It is such a pleasure to know that people are still reading this blog!


  32. Paula says:

    Thank you so much for this blog.  I was about to buy this quote on Etsy for my daughter who is graduating this May with a literary studies degree.  I decided to make sure it was Fitzgerald and came across your comments.  I’ll try to find her another one that it truly Fitzgerald.

  33. Jill says:

    Hi Paula, I can’t tell you how happy your comment makes me! It also amazes & delights me that people are still tracking down this blog entry. Hope you found a suitable Fitzgerald quote for your daughter. Jill

  34. Gregory Feeley says:

    Great catch, but when you write, “Trooper that she is, she was happy to correct the attribution once I explained the details,” you misspell “trouper.”

    (Different words, different spellings.)

  35. Jill says:

    Gregory, Great catch! Fixed!


  36. Aimee says:

    I’m so glad to have found this page but a little sad too.  I have always loved that quote, the story by Fitzgerald, and the movie.  This quote makes me think of my father and I had planned to use it during his upcoming memorial service.  Still love the quote though, and the feelings it evokes.

  37. Roxanne Grider says:

    Glad to have the origin cleared up. Wouldn’t usually comment, but wanted you to know your answers were still helping people.

    1. Jill Erickson says:

      Thanks so much for letting us know that our research on this quote continues to be found!

  38. Yanna says:

    Thank you Jill! I love this post. It’s very helpful!

  39. Lisa says:

    Facts are such wonderful things! This continues to be a helpful post. I knew something was fishy when I saw this on my chiropractor’s wall.

    1. Jill Erickson says:

      I think yours is the funniest comment we’ve gotten on this post! Thanks for letting us know that you found it helpful!

  40. Angelo says:

    Its from Firzgerald’s collection of Short Stories “All the Sad Young men”…. it is Fitzgerald just not from the curious case of Benjamin Button. I have the book in Australia. You should have a look t it.

    1. Jill Erickson says:

      Hi Angelo, This is a fascinating possibility. I looked through all the stories in the original edition of ALL THE SAD YOUNG MEN, and did not find the lines. (Although did read some great stories!) However, there is a Cambridge University Press edition that was published in 2007 and includes eleven more stories. I will take a look through those. Your comment DOES bring up an interesting possibility. Is it possible that the screenwriter took lines from a different Fitzgerald story, and plugged them into his script?? Looks like it is time to find a Fitzgerald scholar! Or the screenwriter! I’ll keep you posted if I find any new evidence. Thanks very much for your comment. Jill

      1. Alison says:

        What did you find?

        1. Jill Erickson says:

          Thanks for asking! So far, I have read more great stories in the Cambridge University Press edition, but have yet to find the quotation. I have a few more stories to read, so I haven’t completely given up hope that I might find the quotation. Not optimistic, but I will finish reading the stories.

          1. Elif says:

            Did you finish the book? (It looks like people really want this quote to be from Fitzgerald :D)

          2. Jill Erickson says:

            Thanks for asking! I DID finish it, and I did NOT find the quotation, but I hope someone can at some point locate the original quotation, if in fact it exists anywhere in Fitzgerald’s work. Thinking I now need to contact the screen writer of the film! The only one that MAY know for sure if it came from actual words written by the actual Fitzgerald.

  41. Lisa Brown says:

    And yes, it continues to be found (the blog that is!). I too found it to be curious and not ‘sound’ like Fitzgerald so I looked I began a search. I am, by no means, a scholar of his work, but I did teach HS English for a time and his works are among my favorites. Thank you for the clarification!

    1. Jill Erickson says:

      I am still hoping that one day the screenwriter’s papers will end up in an archive, and I will get to the bottom of who wrote those lines! The screenwriter is Eric Roth and here is a conversation he had about the screenplay:
      Meanwhile I suppose it is overtime to contact a Fitzgerald scholar on the matter!
      Thanks for letting us know you read the blog!

  42. Cheryl Anne Pajak says:

    I love the sentiment of the quote, but just couldn’t simply abide the misattribution… eeeps.

    1. Jill Erickson says:

      Thanks so much for sending this comment! It is really astonishing that this 2011 post still has legs!

  43. JoAnn says:

    This is a bit disheartening. My daughter’s boyfriend has this quote framed in their home. I loved it and thought it would be wonderful to put it up in my classroom. I noticed his version did not state who wrote it so I started researching. Now I am so confused as to who truly said it that I am afraid to put it up in my classroom as I won’t know for sure who to give the credit to. I teach my children to give credit where it is due, so how can I not?

    1. Jill Erickson says:

      Hi JoAnn, Thanks for reading the blog. You could say “attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald” … which it certainly has been. I believe I have gotten the interest of a Fitzgerald scholar, at last, so watch this space for any updates on the origin of the quote. Jill

  44. Connie Meares says:

    Any update?

    1. Jill Erickson says:

      Alas, no, but you do remind me that I had a possible Fitzgerald scholar, back in January, who thought she might be able to investigate. I never heard back from her, but I’ll give it another try! Many thanks for asking!

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