Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wednesday Search Challenge (March 30, 2010): Quotes / misquotes / mondegreens

Today's challenge is about quotations and the difficulty of pinning down an accurate source. 

Sometimes you'll be looking for the source of a quote, such as: 

"...stories about my death are premature..."  

That seems straightforward enough.  (You might even recognize it as another version of  ""The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated")  

A quick search on the supposed quote:  

[ stories about my death are premature ] 

.. quickly lead you to a number of pages, where you can quickly learn that Mark Twain actually wrote in the New York Journal of 2 June 1897 his famous words "The report of my death is an exaggeration."  

You're starting to get a hint about what the challenge is here; it's figuring out which author attribution is correct!  

A big part of the problem is that quotations are often improved upon after the original was uttered.  That's what happened to Twain's quote about "report of my death..." 

Luckily, usually enough of the core phrase remains, in Twain's case, "my death" and "premature" always remain as part of the quote.  There's enough of the core left to track down the actual quotation.

This gets a bit tricker when the quotation is transformed by mishearing, as often happens with song lyrics. On his album, Jimmy Hendrix does not sing " 'scuse me while I kiss this guy" in his song Purple Haze (although he's claimed to have done so later in live performance, but I digress).  

A misheard lyric is often called a mondegreen.  (You could look it up:  [ define:mondegreen ] ) All of which makes quotation attribution a sometimes slippery slope.  

So now, today's challenge:  Who said (or wrote):  

     "Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at the blank 
     sheet of
paper until the drops of blood form on
your forehead"  

Seems simple enough, eh? 

(Special thanks to Eszter, who suggested this problem many months ago.) 


  1. It seems to be Gene Fowler. So there must be a trick, or you wouldn't have posted it.

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