Saturday, September 08, 2012

Hey, Scratch My Back, Will You?

My friend Toni points to a prize: a website devoted to documenting fake Buddha quotes.  The site offers elegant examples, along with some interesting insights into the whole fake-quotes enterprise: how this stuff gets manufactured, and why.  It seems that some people just lend themselves to this kind of treatment--Yogi Berra and Will Rogers no doubt heading the list.  But the manufacturing of undocumented or undocumentable quotations surely tells you something about the sensibilities of the quoter and the anxieties of the time.  My own first encounter with this sort of thing came back during the 1964 Presidential campaign (Johnson-Goldwater).  I was working the Kentucky state capitol for The Louisville Tiimes, and I noticed that some well-wisher was festooning the men's rooms with little paste-ups of one-liners, mostly devoted to showing either how (a) Khrushchev was rooting for Lyndon Johnson or (b) Lincoln was plumping for Barry Goldwater.

Khrushchev seems to have faded from view but my guess is that Lincoln still stands high in the fake-quote league tables, particularly for his (supposed) habit of telling the rest of us we ought to get off our Fat Butts and quit taking government money.  Here's  a whole catalog of Lincolnisms here, together with some remarkable documentation and history; see also link,  ("other misnomer," mid-page).  Churchill, of course, gets similar treatment.  We tried to deal with one tiny corner of the Churchill cathedral here just the other day; for a more extended selection, go here.    Mark Twain is almost too easy, but here are a few offerings.  link.

Yogi Berra is, of course, such a cosmic sink of fake quotations that he almost beggars any effort at collection; Snopes even offers up a fake Yogi Berra commencement address ("Do not covet thy neighbor's wife unless she has nothing else to wear"--who knew that the Yogi was also a zen master?).  Ironically, it appears that Yogi probably did say "I never said most of the things I said" (or something very close).  Quotesleuth Fred Shapiro documents it here, with some bonus comments on the peculiar Yogi style.

With the Buddha (though not with the Yogi), I should think part of the problem is sheer remoteness:  who can we accurately transmit anything across almost unimaginable chasms of time and space.    Anecdote, I remember when young reading two different translations of Lao Tzu.   I couldn't make head or tail out of the first so I moved on to the second.  I couldn't make sense of that either--and I got the unsettling sense that the two translations bore little or no resemblance to each other.  As Lao Tzu himself would surely say, bummer.  Thanks again, Toni, and meanwhile, my own favorite Buddha quote is the headline to this post.


Anonymous said...

in those days you could see almost anything in frankfort, kentucky. during election years, you'd see primary election bumper stickers for multiple sides just lying on the grass in state employee back yards. the day after the election the state employee would affix a winner's bumper sticker on his or her car. thwey didn't want them to look brand new so they "weathered" them on the grass in their back yards. some put a few out and sold or traded them to other state employees.

Taxmom said...

This web page is fascinating....tell your source that I am passing word of it along to the Pali scholar in the house.