steepholm: (Default)
I've occasionally written about misquotations before, but now I've created a tag for the purpose. The internet is such a virulent misquotation vector that I think it may come in handy.

Here are a couple of children's literature-related ones, for my records and possibly your interest. The first I noticed a couple of years ago, the second just today.


  1. Kenneth Grahame claimed in a letter to Teddy Roosevelt that The Wind in the Willows was a sex-free zone. Of course, he didn't use that phrase, but wrote that it was "clean of the clash of sex" - an interesting phrase, I think, but one that is now frequently quoted as "clear of the clash of sex". As far as I've been able to discover, this error goes back to Lois Kuznet's book Kenneth Grahame (1987). That at least is the earliest example I've been able to find. So, it's a pre-internet mistake, but one that now crops up there and everywhere else. (Having said that, I've not seen Grahame's original letter - perhaps Kuznets has - and the difference between 'n' and 'r' can be debatable in some hands. It's just possible I'm maligning her here.)


  2. Now we have C. S. Lewis's dictum from "On Three Ways of Writing for Children" (1952): “I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story.” Today I saw this rendered in a student essay as “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest” - which is just horrible. (I don't agree with Lewis as it happens, but still, what a mangling is here!) Google reveals that this version is now rife - it's quoted in 146 sites, and probably by now in books as well.



I don't know what more I can say, but consider this as a warning buoy anchored by a reef, to warn sailors from sweet song of Lorelei Hardy, siren of lazy quotation.
steepholm: (tree_face)
I've occasionally written about misquotations before, but now I've created a tag for the purpose. The internet is such a virulent misquotation vector that I think it may come in handy.

Here are a couple of children's literature-related ones, for my records and possibly your interest. The first I noticed a couple of years ago, the second just today.


  1. Kenneth Grahame claimed in a letter to Teddy Roosevelt that The Wind in the Willows was a sex-free zone. Of course, he didn't use that phrase, but wrote that it was "clean of the clash of sex" - an interesting phrase, I think, but one that is now frequently quoted as "clear of the clash of sex". As far as I've been able to discover, this error goes back to Lois Kuznet's book Kenneth Grahame (1987). That at least is the earliest example I've been able to find. So, it's a pre-internet mistake, but one that now crops up there and everywhere else. (Having said that, I've not seen Grahame's original letter - perhaps Kuznets has - and the difference between 'n' and 'r' can be debatable in some hands. It's just possible I'm maligning her here.)


  2. Now we have C. S. Lewis's dictum from "On Three Ways of Writing for Children" (1952): “I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story.” Today I saw this rendered in a student essay as “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest” - which is just horrible. (I don't agree with Lewis as it happens, but still, what a mangling is here!) Google reveals that this version is now rife - it's quoted in 146 sites, and probably by now in books as well.



I don't know what more I can say, but consider this as a warning buoy anchored by a reef, to warn sailors from sweet song of Lorelei Hardy, siren of lazy quotation.
steepholm: (Default)
I've recently seen this rather facile apercu attributed to George Eliot, but without a specific source. Is it genuine? It seems a most un-Eliotic thought to me. Having Middlemarch fairly fresh in my mind, it strikes me that it's a book all about the realization that it's too late to be what one might have been. Look at Lydgate! Look at Casaubon! Look at Lydgate again!

I've not read all of Eliot by any means, and maybe she has her lapses into airheaded optimism, but I find it hard to imagine. I might have bought the quotation had it been attributed to Dickens, but even Scrooge can never be what he might have been - the contented husband of Belle. He can only be what he can still become, someone who "knows how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possesses the knowledge." Which may be better or may be worse, but certainly isn't the same.
steepholm: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] poliphilo recently published a post in which he declared that, although he had considered himself a pacifist, he now feels, given that he thinks attacking Gadaffi is justified, that he can no longer do so.

That seemed a fair analysis to me. If you believe that war is justified, then you may be right or you may be wrong, but one thing you're not is a pacifist. However, several people replied reassuringly, saying that pacifism comes in many "flavors", not all of which involve outright opposition to war. One commenter quoted from a longer definition: "the obliteration of force except in cases where it is absolutely necessary to advance the cause of peace".

I'd not heard this phrase, and wondered where it came from. A quick google shows that it appears in many places on the internet, including Wikipedia - and indeed several of the other places cite Wikipedia as their source - but I've not been able to find an author. (Perhaps someone out there can help?) The Wiki entry also distinguishes principled from pragmatic pacifism, noting of the former: "Principled pacifism holds that at some point along the spectrum from war to interpersonal physical violence, such violence becomes morally wrong."

Now, I'm no moral philosopher, but I have to say I think this all sounds like a load of hooey. Putting aside psychopaths, criminals and imperialists (three groups with a large intersection), pretty much everyone who goes to war thinks they're doing it to advance the cause of peace. By this definition Winston Churchill is a pacifist. Hell, George Bush Sr is a pacifist!

As for believing that "at some point along the spectrum from war to interpersonal physical violence, such violence becomes morally wrong" I'm not sure what that even means. Do principled pacifists think it's fine to kick the shit out of people one-on-one or to gun people down in small groups, but not to bomb a whole city? Or maybe it's the other way around? I've no idea - but it doesn't sound much like the pacifism I learned about as a wee Quaker.

It may seem trivial to get antsy about the meanings of words when people are dying, but as George Orwell noticed, words and mass-murder are intimately related. If we're allowed to call bombing pacifism now, can fucking for virginity be far behind?

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