Herald-Times (Bloomington, IN)
By Mike Leonard
One of author Ralph Keyes’ favorite examples of the erroneous or spurious attribution of quotes is the oft-repeated line, “Show me the money!” from the movie, “Jerry Maguire.”
Sports agent Drew Rosenhaus worked as a consultant for screenwriter and director Cameron Crowe and immediately took credit for the catch phrase when the film became a hit.
Agent Leigh Steinberg also worked as a consultant on the movie and told a different story – that he fed the gist of the quotation to Crowe, based upon what a client of his once said.
Crowe then went on record saying he formed Steinberg’s nugget into the pithy “Show me the money!” The respected Bartlett’s Book of Familiar Quotations credits Crowe.
“In fact,” Keyes said from his Yellow Springs, Ohio, home last week, “that phrase shows up all over the place in newspapers from the early twentieth century. It’s a boxer’s catch phrase that’s a century old.”
Keyes explains all of this in his book to be released this week, “The Quote Verifier.” He not only corrects the record on dozens and dozens of familiar quotes but in many cases takes the reader through the process he went through to discover the earliest author of various famous quotations, the first version of the quotation or to indeed verify that a famous quote did come from the famous person attached to it.
Keyes, a freelance author, delved into some of this territory with his previous book, “Nice Guys Finish Seventh: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings and Familiar Quotations.” The title refers to the genesis of the quote attributed to the legendary baseball manager, Leo Durocher, which most people know as “Nice guys finish last.”
What actually happened, Keyes learned, was that Brooklyn Dodgers radio announcer Red Barber had asked Durocher why he couldn’t be a nice guy for a change. Durocher reportedly pointed toward the New York Giants’ dugout and said, “The nice guys are all over there – in seventh place.” Over time, the comment evolved into the all-purpose quotation we commonly hear today.
That kind of editing is common with famous quotes. People intentionally or unintentionally improve or refine a memorable thought or phrase. Then, typically, the quote gets attributed to someone famous.
For example, various people have been cited as the author of the quotation: “No one on his deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time on my business'” The almost-accurate citation is former U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas, who died of lymphoma. Keyes tracked it back to a friend of Tsongas who made the observation to his terminally ill colleague and Tsongas repeated it.
“Famous quotes need famous mouths,” Keyes observed. “Practically speaking, no one’s going to say, ‘In the words of Arnold Zack …'”
“If you see something attributed to Lincoln or Churchill, be suspicious,” said Anthony Shipps, the retired Indiana University librarian whom Keyes calls “the grand old man of quote verification.”
Shipps’ 1990 book, “The Quote Sleuth,” reset the bar for accurate quote verification and illustrated just how lacking existing quotation resources had been. He’s still working on his magnum opus, “Another Place to Look,” but acknowledges that the research is tedious and slow-going.
“The thing most people don’t realize is that sources such as Bartlett’s or the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations are riddled with errors,” Keyes said. “When I first got into this, I was surprised to find errors in those works. Now I know it’s common knowledge among what I call quotographers that those publications do not live up to their reputations.
“There are a lot of things on those books that are good and right,” said Keyes. “I like to tell people they’re the best place to start, but not necessarily the best place to finish if you want to be certain.”