Caveat scriptor! Mind how you quote.
Caveat scriptor! Mind how you quote – or misquote -- a person or source.
London theater critic Kieron Quirke recently wrote a less than favorable review of a current production: “It is both irresistible and true to say that St. George and the Dragon drags on.” Soon afterwards, an ad for the show appeared that “quoted” Kieron’s review: “Irresistible,” it simply said.
This sort of deliberate deception will soon have big consequences. Kate Lunau, of Maclean’s magazine reported that:
”Soon promoters who take liberties with critics' reviews could face legal action--maybe even jail time--under a new European Union directive coming into force in Britain by April 2008. The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive is aimed at protecting consumers from ‘sharp’ practices in advertising, said Simon Gorham, a litigator at British law firm Boodle Hatfield. While the directive isn't specifically designed to keep theatre producers in line, ‘it is interesting from an arts perspective,’ Gorham said, ‘because it will impact those who misquote critics to sell tickets."’ 
The sayer, too, may directly object to a misquote. On June 13, a World Entertainment News Network newswire reported:
"(Actor) George Clooney has demanded an apology from a media outlet after he was misquoted bad-mouthing jailed socialite Paris Hilton.
"The Ocean's Eleven star was quoted as saying, 'You can only get so far without discernable talent - then you either work, or use cheap publicity tricks to keep the public's attention. Paris has no reason to complain if she is on the end of bad publicity.'
"According to TMZ.com, a representative for Clooney has demanded a retraction and an apology from KP International, who are reported to have distributed the actor's alleged words." 
Quotations are appeals to the authority (or iniquity) of the persons who originally spoke them. Their impact extends far beyond Hollywood and the London theater district.
Yesterday, this writer posted a story about how often and with what variety George Santayana's most famous quotation has been misstated. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" recently appeared as ""Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it" in syndicated columnist Trudy Rubin's August 26 column, "Bush's bid to tie Iraq to Vietnam doesn't work." A wall inscription at the Auschwitz concentration camp site in Poland reworded Santayana this way: "The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again."
No harm done? Maybe not. But both Rubin's and the monument's re-phrasings cite George Santayana directly, with quotation marks around the words. Certainly Santayana had good reason to say "the past" instead of "history" and "repeat" instead of "live through it again."
And what if someone misquotes Santayana one step further, innocently or otherwise? "Those who forget their history are destined to rewrite it" departs far from the original thought.
There is a danger of manipulation or corruption of information if writers do not respect the precision of the quotations they cite. A misquote is as much a disservice to the author as an incorrect citation of a source. The original wording does in fact matter, for the credibility of the author using the quotation and for that of his or her publication -- or website, like NowPublic.
Otherwise, a "quotation" can suffer the fate of the first statement in the "Gossip Game." A favorite at staff training sessions, this game begins as one person whispers a statement to another. The "information" goes secretly around the room from person to person, until the last participant blurts out something that is usually a travesty of the original words.
A misquotation is even a form of reverse plagiarism, where one writer attributes his or her own words to another author.
When the distortion is malicious, as in the "Verbum caro" example, what we get is blatant propaganda and the putting of words and meaning into the mouths of much wiser people.
Paul F. Boller Jr. addressed this issue in They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes and Misleading Attributions. Here are some red herrings they caught:
• "Come with me to the Casbah." -- Charles Boyer never said this, in Algiers or any other movie he made. The same goes for Jimmy Cagney and "You dirty rat!"
• "Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson's original thought was not so sweepingly critical of coherent thinking. What he did write was, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."
• "Go west, young man!" -- John Babstone Soule first penned these words in 1851, and Horace Greeley gave Soule full credit for them when he reprinted them in the New York Tribune. So, it wasn't Greeley's fault if Soule was eventually forgotten.
• "If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." -- Sir Isaac Newton did in fact write this in a letter to a fellow scientist. What is likely, however, is that he paraphrased a saying he had read in Richard Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy. The 1624 version reads "Pigmies placed on the shoulders of giants see more than the giants themselves."
• "Let them eat cake." -- It wasn't French Queen Marie Antoinette who said this. The expression was in common usage long before the lady was born, and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau had attributed the words to another "great princess" in his Confessions of 1778, years before Marie Antoinette got the bum rap.
• "Useful idiots of the West." -- Vladimir Ilyitch Lenin is supposed to have described American liberals and socialists with these words, which appear in none of his writings or speeches.
• "War is hell!" -- What Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman really said on Aug. 11, 1880, was "There is many a boy here today who looks on war as glory, but, boys, it is hell." Journalists quickly reduced the quote to the three little words so often repeated. During the Civil War, Sherman had also said, "War is cruelty and you cannot refute it ."were quick to omit the "vice versa" and turn Wilson's words into open pandering to Big Industry.
Nor is it a bad idea to know the context of the quotes themselves. Many people think that "The exception proves the rule" means "The exception confirms the rule," when "proves" means "tests" in this case. Likewise, the true sense and history of a quotation enriches our understanding of the ideas behind it.
For instance, what would you reply to this question, "Who said, 'government of the people, by the people, for the people'?"
If you replied “Abraham Lincoln,” congratulations! Lincoln did in fact close his Gettysburg Address of November 19, 1863, with these words: "that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth."
But if the question is really "Who said it first?," then things grow more complicated. John Bartlett's Familiar Quotations and The Home Book of Quotations (edited by Burton Stevenson) proved that neither Lincoln's idea nor his choice of words was entirely original.
Daniel Webster (1782-1852) was as famous an orator as statesman. In his "Second Speech on Foote's Resolution"(Jan. 26, 1830), Webster said, "The people's government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people" -- thereby adding the element of "accountability" dear to today's politicians.
English-born Thomas Cooper (1759-1839) was an American scientist and educator. He was also, said the Dictionary of American Biography, an abolitionist and political agitator. In his Some Information Respecting America (1795), Cooper wrote, "The government is a government of the people and for the people."
It is possible that others before Cooper said something similar. After all, according to Walter Skeet's Etymological Dictionary of the English Language , the Latin word, respublica ("republic") meant "a public matter" or "the people's state." The famous initials on the guidons of the Roman legions, "SPQR," stood for Senatus Populusque Romanus ("the Senate and the People of Rome") . Likewise, the Greek word demokratia came from demos ("a country district" and also "the people") plus kratein ("to rule"). The "of the people" concept is obviously quite old.
Other obstacles to the tracking down of quotations are the speakers themselves, who may revise and update their own words over time. For example, everyone remembers this statement by football coach Vince Lombardi (1913-1970): "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing" (quoted by Jerry Kramer in his 1968 book, Instant Replay, and cited in The New York Public Library Book of 20th-Century American Quotations). But fewer people know the coach's earlier wisdom (captured in the November 1962 Esquire
magazine): "Winning isn't everything, but want to win is." So, which quotation states the true Lombardi Creed?
That, dear NowPublic reader, I leave to your own good powers of judgment.
 Lunau, Kate. "Courting trouble with misblurbs: misquote a critic to sell more tickets or books, and you could face jail time in Britain.(stage)(Unfair Commercial Practices Directive )." Maclean's 120.22 (June 11, 2007): 75(1). General OneFile. Gale. DISCUS Remote Patron Access ITWeb. Accessed on September 2, 2007.
 CLOONEY DEMANDS APOLOGY FOR HILTON 'MISQUOTE'." World Entertainment News Network (June 13, 2007): NA. General OneFile. Gale. DISCUS Remote Patron Access ITWeb. Accessed on September 2, 2007.
 Boller, Paul F. They Never Said It : A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attribution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
[Other sources are cited within main the main text.]