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New book takes humbug out of quotations

Written by: Staff

LOS ANGELES, Oct 25 (Reuters) Showman PT Barnum never said ''There's a sucker born every minute'' although he wished he had. And Civil War Admiral David Farragut probably never said ''Damn the Torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead'' -- words that have inspired generations of fighting men.

To make things even more complicated, it is doubtful that Paul Revere warned that ''The British are coming'' when he would have at the time of the American Revolution thought himself British, although a revolting one. He probably would have said ''The Redcoats are coming.'' A new, meticulously researched book of quotations attempts to set the record straight on those beloved phrases that have crept into everyday use as signs of wisdom and wit, including Sigmund Freud's sage advice that ''sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.'' (He didn't quite say that, although his biographer thinks he would have approved of the idea.) ''The Yale Book of Quotations'' has a simple thesis: famous quotes are often misquoted and misattributed. Sometimes they are never said at all but are, instead, little fictions that have forged their way into public consciousness.

Take, for example, ''Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead,'' a rallying cry supposedly uttered by Farragut during the American Civil War battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864.

According to Fred R. Shapiro, a Yale librarian and editor of ''The Yale Book of Quotations,'' it was a comment either never said or at least never heard on the day of battle. The first appearance of a partial version of the phrase came in a book published in 1878 but reports from the day of the battle never mention the phrase.


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