how to spot a zombie quote

ZombieQuoteKingGeorgeOver on the Invisible Order blog, Mike Reid explains how to spot fraudulent quotations:

It’s not a real quote. It is lifeless, a dead abomination mindlessly stumbling across the Web. It is a zombie quote.…

Now, if you’re a brilliant constitutional historian like Tom Woods, you can probably recognize fake quotes from Founding Fathers a mile off. But what if you’re just ordinary writer, or what if you’re an editor or a publisher overseeing dozens of writers on dozens of different topics? How can you tell the zombie quotes from the real things?


9 Responses to how to spot a zombie quote

  1. Scott Lahti says:

    Mike Reid: “Listen to [the supposed quote]. If it’s an actual old quote (100 years or more) it won’t sound modern, and it won’t be full of the latest catchphrases. It will sound a little stiff and unfamiliar, because the language changed over the last few centuries. A lot of zombie quotes come about through a kind of necromantic ventriloquism, with modern writers fervently wishing that old, respected dead guys would say exactly the right thing. And surprise surprise, the quote comes out sounding modern.”

    Just the other day, I passed along to a friend, from beneath a news article from April 2012 titled (speaking of zombies) “Gun Sales Booming: Doomsday, Obama or Zombies?” a portion of a comment thread triggered, if you will, by one commenter’s fake quote* from Thomas Jefferson (which other commenters gave 1512 thumbs up, to 59 thumbs down), one of whose many debunkings comes to us from the good myth-busting offices of the “Spurious Quotations” department at

    “We currently have no evidence that Thomas Jefferson said or wrote, ‘The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it’ or any of its listed variations.”

    [Doug • Chengdu, China] What I can’t understand is why 24 people gave this quote a thumbs down!

    [Scott • North Berwick, Maine] Because I had yet to show up to make it 25.

    *Among many, of course, web-wide: see, e.g., “Bogus Quotes Attributed to the Founders”:

    [Scott • North Berwick, Maine] “Arms in the hands of the citizens may be used at individual discretion for the defense of the country, the overthrow of tyranny or private self-defense … Thomas Jefferson … actual quote”

    Yes, if you mean an actual quote from “Bogus Quotes Attributed to the Founders” just a Google away.

  2. starkwoman says:

    Thank you for the links to spurious quotations sites.

  3. henrymoore says:

    I am thinking of some great fake or misattributed quotes from Jefferson, Gandhi, Samuel Adams, Lincoln, Mark Twain, Ben Franklin, and Admiral Yamomoto at the moment.

    • Scott Lahti says:

      When in the course of human events the tree of liberty is watered with the blood of the holders of those slaves it would not at the present juncture be prudent to free, and human invention devise a means by which to view moving likenesses from afar, there will arise among that portion of the imagined progeny of the darker race dwelling on the East Side of Manhattan a cleaner of clothing by dry methods bearing my surname, and he shall address his beloved as “Weezy”. – Jefferson.

      What are the odds that someone as committed to nonviolence as am I could ever perish by means of viol- – Gandhi.

      Two words: Boston Lager. – Samuel Adams.

      Mary, am I in my distress wholly alone of the people and by the people attending this play, in thinking that it is commencing at this very moment to really su- – Lincoln.

      Had I but known of the infernal commotion to which my use of the N-word might someday lead, I’d as well have had sport instead with the penchant for annoyance of his fellows of “Nagger” Jim. – Mark Twain.

      The better that ah might fave af many af poffible of thofe pennief that ah had earned, ah did not have carnal (nor Continental) congreff with that Frenchwoman, Mademoifelle La Wincequie. – Ben Franklin.

      I must have seen it a hundred times, but I still cry each time I come to the end of From Here to Eternity. – Admiral Yamomoto.

  4. Scott Lahti says:

    Alternate title for e-Mailers of “how to spot a zombie quote”:

    The Faked and the Undead.*

    *Compare its 0 Google results to date to the c. 59,000 for the much more obvious restyling.

    • Scott Lahti says:

      On the other hand, we find 10 results at Google for The Faked and the Dead, among which, in an old message-list calling itself Jest for Pun (thus affording new meaning to the term “Groaning board”, even beyond the title of an anthology from 1964 of cartoons by Charles Addams), we find the results of one year’s installment in the Washington Post Style Invitational, from among whose Honorable Mentions rather than from either its winner or its runners-up, I find my dozen favorites:

      The Good, the Bad and Theology: A stranger rides into town and proceeds
      to set everyone straight. Not all the locals are pleased. Starring Clint
      Eastwood as Jesus.

      Bob & Carol & Ted & Lice: The prequel to “Shampoo.”

      Abridged Too Far: From Reader’s Digest Studios, an epic saga of World
      War II. 48 minutes; rated G.

      The Angina Monologues: If it’s heartache you want, it’s heartache you’ll
      get as the author candidly discusses that place “up here.”

      The Adventures of Huckleberry Fink: He sold his friend down the river.

      Them Elements of Style: Voted unanimously by educators as Least Useful
      Reference Book.

      Brrr: A novelization of the life of William Henry Harrison, who should
      have worn a coat to his inauguration.

      The Grapes of Rather: A young reporter in Texas, poor as a June bug in a
      hailstorm, is forced to travel to New York where, like a hoot owl at a
      quilting bee, he seeks his fortune in journalism.

      M*O*S*H: The chronicles of the wacky first-aid physicians at rock

      The World According to AARP: Show times at 9:30 a.m., noon and 2:30 p.m.

      Madame Ovary: A rural 19th-century French wife and her incessantly
      ticking biological clock.

      Citizen Kant: A young philosopher searches for the meaning of his
      mentor’s dying words: “Does empirical realism sufficiently justify
      non-reductionistic determinism, or is a priori knowledge required?”

  5. Scott Lahti says:

    Cartoon’s We’d Like to See Dept.:

    A reporter interviewing a hoarsely-barking, trudging, bleached-out, coal-eyed, post-apocalyptic Boston Terrier, speech-ballooned “Do I have this right?” alongside a clipboard reading “Arf! Arf!”, and captioned “How to Quote a Zombie Spot”.

  6. Scott Lahti says:

    “how to spot a zombie quote”

    Viz., when the anachronist formulations of such among the undead as “Oscar Wilde” make their way from such Twitter feeds as that of Book “Quotes” to divers reTweeters of whom one continues to think nothing other than the best. not in spite of their regular sins against sense but, more and more often than not these days, because of them. .

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