Many well-known quotes such as "Elementary, my dear Watson" were never actually said by the person they are attributed to.

Is there a specific word that means this kind of quote? If not, is there a more general word for commonly held belief that is wrong?

  • 3
    Strictly, of course, Sherlock Holmes of 221B Baker Street never said anything at all. A misquote is when the words are mangled (as in the above fictional case). A false attribution is when the person allegedly being quoted is the wrong one. And a common misconception is a two-word phrase used to describe the last case above. May 20 '13 at 21:45
  • Forgive me for being a stickler, but shouldn't your word "quotes" be "quotations"? Quote is a verb; a quotation is a noun. For example: I like to quote Alexander the Great, who in that famous quotation said, "I came, I saw, I conquered." [I'm not sure he actually said those words; they are illustrative only.] May 21 '13 at 1:09
  • 2
    @rhetorician ...That was said by Caesar, not Alexander. May 21 '13 at 1:39
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    @rhetorician "Quote is a verb; a quotation is a noun." should have been was & was; no longer is & is. oxforddictionaries.com/definition/american_english/…
    – Kris
    May 21 '13 at 6:57
  • @EdwinAshworth A fictional character named Sherlock Holmes certainly has said "Elementary, my dear Watson" (in the sense that fictional characters can say anything). It's Conan Doyle to whom it's misattributed, since his Holmes never said it.
    – user32047
    May 21 '13 at 12:09

The word apocryphal is commonly used for made-up writings; its senses include “Of doubtful authenticity, or lacking authority; not regarded as canonical” and “Of dubious veracity; of questionable accuracy or truthfulness; anecdotal or in the nature of an urban legend”.

  • Thanks, I spent the last 20 minuets failing to google for that word. I was starting to wonder if I had imagined it in the first place. I'll accept the answer when it lets me. May 20 '13 at 21:40
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    'Apocryphal' means 'dubious' not 'definitely wrong'. May 20 '13 at 21:48

Is there a word for this kind of quote? Sure there is: misquote (or misquotation).

NOAD lists misquote as both a verb and a noun, with the noun defined as a passage or remark quoted inaccurately. Most dictionaries I checked, though (such as this one), listed misquote as a verb, and misquotation as the noun:

misquotation: an instance of quoting something incorrectly, or of something being quoted incorrectly (from Collins)

  • "Misquote" implies that the person said something like it, but it's been distorted. It doesn't apply when the quotation is completely made up.
    – user32047
    May 21 '13 at 12:06
  • @gmcgath: I wondered about that same thing, and that's how I often see the term used. As for Holmes' "Elementary, my dear Watson," it seems a gray area as to whether or not the word misquoted would apply. The literary Holmes never uttered that, but Basil Rathbone's cinematic version did, to the point where it became trite. Getting back to the O.P.'s question, though, namely: Is there a word for a quotation never actually said by the person it is attributed to? I don't think misquote is too far off the mark there.
    – J.R.
    May 21 '13 at 13:02

Spurious can be used for this purpose for wrongly attributed "facts".

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