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You Don’t Say: The Story Of A Fake Quotation – OpEd

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By Gavin Atkins

The great human rights leader, Martin Luther King once said:

A lie cannot live

which just goes to show how little he knew.

Take for example the quote attributed to him following the death of Gaddafi, now all over twitter that:

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy

MLK in fact never said it.

One good way to check these kinds of things is to do a google search with an old date range. If you search for references to this quote from between, say, 2000 and 2005, you won’t find it. Google trends also reveals that this quote has really only appeared since the death of bin Laden earlier this year.

Another way is simply to google the reference with “false quote” or “never said” attached to it and you can then check the veracity of the sources you unearth.

Starting off an editorial piece with a quote (hey, I did it here) is a really easy way to start an opinion piece if you’re not confident that you have anything interesting to say. Over at the ABC’s compulsory pay opinion site, The Drum, where crap is meal of the day every day, they do it all the time – and usually use false quotes like these.

The person who did coin the quote attributed to MLK has been tracked down – an English teacher in Japan named Jessica Dovey. She tacked a quote from Martin Luther King onto the end of her own words, which accounts for the confused attribution. Ironically, without the misattribution, Ms Dovey’s quote – nor Ms Dovey – would probably ever have become famous.

More about Jessica Dovey and the anatomy of a fake quote here.

You can also find much more on misattributed quotes here.

Asian Correspondent

Asian Correspondent

Asian Correspondent is an English-language liberal news, blogs and commentary online newspaper serving all of the Asia-Pacific region. The website covers asian business, politics, technology, the environment, education, new media and Asia society issues.

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