Einstein said it?

A Zippy cartoon in which Pinhead parents deal with an exceptionally precocious child:

All three quotations have been attributed to Albert Einstein (hence the title, and the reference to Princeton in the last panel). They all look suspicious to me — especially the last, which some sites maintain was on a sign in Einstein’s office.

Sites that are scrupulous in sourcing Einstein quotations don’t seem to list any of them, and each of them appears on one or more sites that list quotes that are not attested from Einstein or or misattributed to him. (There are quite a few such spurious quotations attributed to him; Einstein, like Mark Twain and Winston Churchill and some others, is a “quote magnet”.)

11 Responses to “Einstein said it?”

  1. Jonathan Lundell Says:

    I’ve come across some apparently spurious quotes attributed to William James, who I wouldn’t have thought of as a quote magnet (I like that term). One reason these attributions persist, I suppose, is that it’s hard to prove the negative, especially when there’s not a solid alternative attribution. James was a popular (in both senses) lecturer, and of course not everything he said has been collected and published. On the other hand, he had a 19C style that’s distinctly missing from the (mis)attributed quotes.

  2. arnoldzwicky Says:

    On “quote magnet”: not original with me, alas; I got it from the excellent Fred Shapiro, of Yale Book of Quotations fame. Nigel Rees uses the term “Churchillian drift”.

  3. mae Says:

    I also like the reference to the now-discredited “Baby Einstein” products that claimed to increase the intelligence of the fortunate baby who received them. Last October they offered to refund money from tapes that presumably failed to deliver on the claim.

  4. Danny Bloom Says:

    As a word-lover and trendspotter from my perch in far away Island Taiwan, I love this term you quote from the Yale prof — “quote magnet” — and I feel, something tells me, that is, that this is a very good term to make popular among word mavens worldwide, just like crash blossoms and crash possums and other terms making the rounds these days. Which reminds me: Ben Zimmer has a good column this Sunday in the Times On Language column about crash blossoms. Let’s give Fred Shapiro a round of applause and elevate that phrase to Urban Dictionary fame and Ben Schott bloghood! I love it: Einstein as a quote magnet; some quotes real, some not his. I guess many famous people and movie stars get this treatment, especially in the blogosphere, where anyone can say anything. As usual, Bill Griffith the cartoonist adds some spice to the culture.

  5. Danny Bloom Says:

    Urban Dictionary now recognizes quote magnet: click on my name above to see link


  6. arnoldzwicky Says:

    From John Baker on ADS-L, 1/21:

    The first one looks like it’s probably legitimate. Google Books has the following in snippet view: “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as judge in the field of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” It’s from his 1954 book Ideas and Opinions, apparently assembled as a collection of his earlier writings.

    YBQ does list the second: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” But it says it was attributed in 1990, which probably means it’s spurious.

    The third one is probably spurious as well, although, as you note on your blog, some web pages claim that Einstein had it on a sign at his office, without claiming authorship. Some sources attribute it to William Cameron, who wrote this in Informal Sociology (1963), again according to Google Books: “However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

  7. Danny Bloom Says:

    UrbanDictionary now has quote magnet, coined by Dr Shapiro, up there.

  8. Danny Bloom Says:

    By the way, I sent this blogpost by Arnold to Bill Griffith in Connecticut who draws the Zippy panels from his home studio there. He likes to keep up with the zeitgist (sp?).

  9. X magnet « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Arnold Zwicky's Blog A blog mostly about language « Einstein said it? […]

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    […] Quote Investigator: Recently I saw a comic strip titled “Baby Einstein” that contained a few quotations that are often attributed to Albert Einstein. I think the following […]

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