The Curious Case of Misquotation
Yes, here we are in the middle of a pandemic, but we never stop looking for an author to this quote. Turns out we are not the only ones to investigate who might have said “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” According to Garson O’Toole, author of Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations George Eliot was also said to be the author of these words. Turns out LOTS of people have possibly said this quote. You can read his complete article here. Many thanks to Garson O’Toole for all of his work.
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.)
78 comments on “The Curious Case of Misquotation”
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!
Another huge difference to me is the word “stop” to the word “start,” which is used in the film. And I think think rightly so, I much prefer it to stop, personally. Maybe that was a perfect flub of the original. Or just Brad lol.
Brad says start. It’s just his faux old-time New Orleans accent that confuses people. Start definitely resonates with me way more. You can start to be whoever you want to be whenever you want.
You are most welcome! So glad someone actually came across our library blog investigation on the Fitzgerald quote!
Yes, indeed. I wondered about this quote with a sentence that ended in a preposition!
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!
THANK YOU. I intuitively felt that this was more certainly NOT Fitzgerald.
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.”
The George Eliot quote is also a mis-attribution. https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/11/24/never-too-late/
Thanks, Eric, for your comment. Of course, now we fell compelled to ask … in what book did this George Eliot quote appear?
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!
LisaAR, Thanks for your comment. I am continually delighted that people find this blog entry from 2011!
Thanks for this, all the fake quotes floating around Instagram are driving me insane.
It’s from a letter Fitzgerald wrote to his daughter, Scottie.
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!
It didn’t seem like Fitzgerald to me either. In the process of researching, I came across this blog. Three cheers for Reference Librarians!
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.”
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!!
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.
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!
Another reader from Wheaton who googled the supposed Fitzgerald quote – thanks so much for posting this!
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!
Thanks, Jody! One of our favorite quotes (although we don’t know where it started!) is “Librarians the original search engines.”
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!
I think it’s in his book the crack-up. I don’t have it on me but I remember reading it in there.
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!
Thank you for this article. I love this quote and will now attribute it to the correct author.
Am I the only one bothered by the sketchy grammar?
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.
I love how you handled this. Facts—what a concept. Seriously, thank you.
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
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!
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!
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!
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.
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
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.)
Gregory, Great catch! Fixed!
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.
Glad to have the origin cleared up. Wouldn’t usually comment, but wanted you to know your answers were still helping people.
Thanks so much for letting us know that our research on this quote continues to be found!
Thank you Jill! I love this post. It’s very helpful!
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.
I think yours is the funniest comment we’ve gotten on this post! Thanks for letting us know that you found it helpful!
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.
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
What did you find?
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.
Did you finish the book? (It looks like people really want this quote to be from Fitzgerald :D)
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.
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!
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: https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/interview-eric-roth-on-the-curious-case-of-benjamin-button-eebba9d3a9c5
Meanwhile I suppose it is overtime to contact a Fitzgerald scholar on the matter!
Thanks for letting us know you read the blog!
I love the sentiment of the quote, but just couldn’t simply abide the misattribution… eeeps.
Thanks so much for sending this comment! It is really astonishing that this 2011 post still has legs!
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?
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
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!
Thank you! Great article and genuinely enjoyed reading the comments thread!
I have loved this thread and yes, ‘librarians rock’ I have only recently seen this quotation, and then found it repeated on posters, placemats, postcards and even shower curtains! So to read this ongoing conversation about its attribution is fascinating. My question is, do I enjoy the message less if it is not by FSF? It’s the sentiment that inspired me, so am I bothered that the quotes I see are incorrectly attributed to FSF? Well yes (I say to myself) because I seem to need to know who actually said/wrote it, and this has become more important than the quote itself.. which is so ironic given the message…
Thanks so much for your comment Morri. When I wrote this in 2011, I never expected to still be getting responses in 2019!! I also assumed that by now I would have a definitive answer, but alas, I have never heard back from the screenwriter or any Fitzgerald scholar who might have known for sure that this came from a Fitzgerald text or not. However, you give me hope that one day someone WILL give me a definitive answer, seeing as people are still finding this blog! The quote itself is indeed everywhere now (including those shower curtains!!!) so perhaps this means Fitzgerald has become the author by default?
Just wanted to let you know your blog post from 2011 is still going strong in 2020 🙂
Many, many thanks for your comment! Never did I imagine, when I posted it in 2011, that it would be the most read blog that we have (up to this point) ever posted. I still dream that one day I WILL hear from the screenwriter of THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (or Brad Pitt) who may be the only two people who know who wrote that line.
I’ve come to think that one could say that the quote was INSPIRED by F. Scott Fitzgerald, as certainly it was! Perhaps one day Brad Pitt or Eric Roth, the screenwriter, will see this blog, and tell us the full backstory of the script!
I fell into this delightful rabbit hole while trying to find just where this quote appeared. I had planned to share it with a few younger people I know, as it resonates and reminds me as the time before me is much shorter than what’s behind. It may be best to share the sentiment with a notation of “Attributed to FSF.” I am 78 years old and planning (after Covid-19) to move to another country. I barely know a couple of people there and do not speak the language, but hoping “to make the best of it,” want to have one more grand adventure before I die.
Though disappointed I did not find the source, I appreciate your diligence in trying to find it for so long is inspiring. Perhaps one day soon the question will be answered.
I actually worked on CCBB in the sound department on set and doing ambient recordings all over southeast Louisiana that are in many, many places in the film. It was easily the best film I ever worked on and I’m very proud of it. Ironically enough, this quote actually helped inspire me to completely change my life by leaving my career in film/TV sound, going back to school, and starting all over again as an electrical engineer… and now I’m revisiting this quote again. For what it’s worth, knowing how this sort of thing goes on set, there was either a rewrite inspired by Fincher on the day of Brad’s readings for Benjamin’s overdubs, or Brad suggested “strength” over “courage.” If an actor like Brad feels like a certain word is better for a character, he’ll almost always get what he wants. There’s also a good chance he read it one time with the word strength and another time with courage and then Fincher ultimately decided on strength in editing. Who knows.
Aaron, Thanks so much for your post! I wrote the original post, and have been astonished at how much attention this one blog entry has gotten. But what a treat to have someone who actually worked on the film reply! Many, many thanks. Jill
Oh sure. And replying to another post I saw, there is no doubt that Brad Pitt did not write that line. It was in the screenplay years before Brad ever spoke the words, so it was Eric Roth. Now what inspired him to write those words, who knows? He could have stole them, but I would be surprised if he did. Roth is quite the accomplished screenwriter. That screenplay kicked around Hollywood as one of the best screenplays that hadn’t yet been produced for I think 10-15 years before it finally began production in 2006. It changed bit by bit over time. The whole Katrina element was added in around 2006 and it was modified with New Orleans themes so they could film there to take advantage of tax credits enacted by the state in about 2002, IIRC. It was originally supposed to take place in Baltimore, which is the setting for, or at least where Benjamin is born, in Fitzgerald’s short story. It’s been about 14 years since I’ve read the short story or the screenplay, so please forgive me if some details are missing. From talking to people on set, many directors wanted to make the film over the years, including Ron Howard, but steep budget concerns for such an epic period piece that takes place all over the world on top of not knowing how the hell they could convincingly pull off the star aging backwards just kept thwarting it being made. What finally got it the green light was a team driven by director David Fincher and his wife/producer Ceán Chaffin proving, convincingly enough, they could pull off the facial replacement technology used in the final cut. I heard several million were spent just proving that, well before we began filming. You now see that technology used all over film and TV, but CCBB was the first to pioneer it. They were still developing and refining it while we filmed and basically till shortly before it was released.
I should say, it was most likely Eric Roth. Lots of people get their hands on a script before it goes to production, so a producer, or Fincher could have added that in there, but I doubt it. This quote is so central to the theme of the movie and in many ways this scene and quote is kind of the peak emotional moment of the film (at least for me, but I’m biased). You never know, but I would be very surprised if Roth didn’t write it. I tried to check if it was in the original screenplay from 2006. I think that I have the paper screenplay that I got in late 2006 when we were filming, but if I do it’s in a box of momentos somewhere. They might have taken it back from me too because this was a very tightly controlled screenplay. They didn’t want any elements of it leaked to the media and most of the crew didn’t get a screenplay. I may have gotten a secure/password locked PDF too. I can’t remember anymore. Anyway. I don’t have the screenplay handy and I can’t find it after a quick search.
Thanks again. Just so delighted to have someone who worked on the film finally see this blog!!
Thanks so much for all of this back story. Really fascinating! Yes, I definitely vote for Eric Roth. Fascinating about the Katrina bit. I’m going to have to re-watch the film!
The reason why I’m revisiting it all is that the film popped up on HBO last night and I watched it. If you happen to have HBO, I imagine it’ll be playing again soon.
No HBO, but I see plenty of those ancient DVDs available via our library system. I’ll have to check one out.
The ideas expressed in the supposed FSF quotation discussed here are at the heart of a discussion I recently had with a young friend, and this morning, I decided to share it with him. Before I did, I looked it up to make sure I quoted it correctly, which is how I became aware of your wonderful blog and learned that the commonly accepted attribution was problematic. Because I collect and use a lot of quotations, and care about accuracy, I know that improper attribution (or no attribution at all) is common. Finding reliable online resources like you is like discovering a gold mine! Thank you so much for the work you do. Librarians do, indeed, rock!
March 2022 and this blog still has legs. Any updates though?
We do not have any updates! And, with Jill Erickson retired as of October, the embers are cold. 🙂