Saturday, December 29, 2012

What Oscar Wilde did not say

When I was last in San Francisco I bought a birthday card for someone because I loved the caption on it:

“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

On the back of the card, the quote was ascribed to Oscar Wilde. Piffle!  As soon as i got home, I googled the quote to see if I could find out who really came up with it and all over the net people were saying that Oscar Wilde had said it. HE DID NOT SAY IT. It is not his voice. Accusing Oscar Wilde of saying Be yourself. Everyone else is taken  is the equivalent of saying that Sue Hepworth wrote “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (a text from Hebrews, King James version).

But everywhere you look – on T shirts, on posters, on the net – clever, pithy epigrams are ascribed to Oscar Wilde, willy-nilly. I love Oscar Wilde. And of course he was clever and funny and witty. But he is not the only person in the history of the world who could turn a clever phrase.

You really can’t rely on the net to give you an accurate answer. Not only are there wrong ascriptions, people misquote poetry all the time. They don’t bother to go back to the original poem, they find what they think is the correct version on the net and then they copy and paste. One of my favourite Ezra Pound poems is

And the days are not full enough

And the nights are not full enough

And life slips by like a field mouse

                      Not shaking the grass.

Ezra Pound

All over the net, people misquote it as:

And the days are not long enough

And the nights are not long enough

And life slips by like a field mouse

                      Not shaking the grass.

Ezra Pound

It matters if you change a word in someone else’s poem. Words and the precise choice of them are important. And I have posted on this before, because rather than go downstairs and find our copy of Pound in order to check the exact wording of the poem, I googled Sue Hepworth Ezra Pound and found a post entitled ‘Pet Peeve,’ where I was ranting along similar lines. So I copied and pasted.


Christine said...

I agree. Full is very different from long, and long is not nearly as good.

Chris said...

"95% of quotes on the internet are made up" - Abraham Lincoln.

Sue Hepworth said...

Hi Chris, happy new year! I am so pleased you agree with me that Lincoln said it.