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To Quote or Not to Quote: Either Way, Check Your Source

By Jay Harrington

The Internet is awesome. It’s also horrible. It’s the greatest timesaver in human history (okay, maybe air travel, but it’s up there). It’s also the biggest time-suck. With so much information and so many resources available at your fingertips, it can save your butt (anniversary gift overnight shipping, anyone?). It can also make you one.

We’ve all witnessed instances of friends turning into Chicken Little over the hoax du jour spreading like wildfire on Facebook, only to be doused by the guy who provides a link to Snopes in the 128th comment in the exchange.

It’s easy to sit back and tut-tut about the dude who forwarded the link about the Tupac sighting at Coachella 2014. It’s even easier to be on the receiving end of criticism if you rely too heavily and, especially, too uncritically on the Internet for research and information.

I should know — I almost made an embarrassing mistake recently.

Don’t Put Words in Shakespeare’s Mouth

While conducting research for a column, I came across a Shakespeare quote (profound, right?) that I thought would work really well to emphasize a point I was trying to make. “Expectation is the root of all heartache” is attributed to Shakespeare all over the place — random sites, well-respected sites, those Pinterest-y inspirational background poster-esque looking things that people post on social media. It’s everywhere.

Problem is, he didn’t say it or write it. Despite my extensive reading of Shakespeare (lesson: don’t believe everything you read online), I only stumbled on this information accidentally. While searching online to make sure I wasn’t misinterpreting the quote’s meaning, I started seeing references to the quote being a fake. Turns out that somehow, somewhere, this quote was erroneously attributed to Shakespeare and it stuck. The Internet is horrible.

That got me thinking: Writers and marketing professionals use quotes all the time to introduce topics and emphasize issues. So what other famous quotes out there are misattributed?

There are quite a few, in fact. Luckily, it being the Internet and all, others have done much of the debunking for us. The Internet is awesome.

This piece is good. It explains, among other things, that Albert Einstein did not say “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Who knew!

This one debunks Shakespeare misquotes. There are lots of them. Guess I’m not the only one suffering from “heartache.”

Did you know that Edmund Burke never said “It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph”? I didn’t, but these folks did.

Once you dig into it, you’ll find that there are tons of quote misattribution sites and resources available online. Of course, the more I think about it, I guess it’s possible that some of the people who are debunking the quotes are, themselves, perpetrating a hoax. Ugh — the Internet!

Time to shut down and go read a book. Encyclopedia Britannica, anyone?

Jay Harrington is co-founder of Harrington Communications, where he leads the agency’s Brand Strategy, Content Creation and Client Service teams. He writes Attorney at Work’s One of  a Kind column, as well as weekly dispatches on his agency’s blog, Simply Stated. Previously, Jay was a commercial litigator and corporate bankruptcy attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Foley & Lardner. He has an undergraduate degree in journalism and earned his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. Follow him @harringj75.

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Categories: Communications Skills, Daily Dispatch, Lawyer Skills
Originally published October 14, 2014
Last updated October 16, 2018
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Jay Harrington Jay Harrington

Jay Harrington is the owner of Harrington Communications, a leading thought-leadership PR and marketing agency that specializes in helping law firms and lawyers build awareness, influence and new business. Jay is the author of three books for lawyers on issues related to business and professional development, including “The Productivity Pivot,” “The Essential Associate” and “One of a Kind: A Proven Path to a Profitable Practice.” He podcasts at The Thought Leadership Project and writes a weekly email newsletter. Previously, he practiced law at Skadden Arps and Foley & Lardner. Follow him @JayHarrington75.

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