Is there a name for the category of common misquotations, such that the misquotation is the actually well-known quote? There must be one, but it’s not coming to mind. If there isn’t already a name for them, I’d probably call them Casablanks, after Play it again, Sam, which has got to be the epitome of the thing.

Now that I’m thinking of them, I do wonder if that sort of popular misquotations will survive much longer. Why would anyone in the twenty-first century reference Dracula with I want to drink your blood? Why would anyone imitate Cary Grant by saying Judy, Judy, Judy? Why would someone intone Just the facts, ma’am? I personally will continue to ask if the Dodgers are still in the league, but I probably shouldn’t, because nobody will know what I’m referring to, much less that the thing I’m referring to that nobody knows is a misquotation.

I think I’ve observed that with more recent stuff, the quotations of the internet age, people get the lines right. Mostly because they post the actual clip or screenshot, which makes it easy to get the line right. Plus—particularly for movies and television—they can watch their favorites quote-mines as often they like. People my age saw Casablanca once a year, at most, and when the line got stuck in people’s memory they had pretty much no opportunity to see it even that often. This is the age of looking stuff up, and getting it right.

Having said that, sometimes (as with Play it again, Sam and Nice guys finish last) the accurate version just isn’t as good as the common one, particularly not for making casual-but-witty references. So maybe there will be Casablanks in the future

I went down this road because I saw someone using the Tony Hanock Casablank Did Magna Carta die in vain? It’s a favorite reference of some of the Grauniad’s writers, and pops up with some frequency, but I’d never seen the actual clip, which I have to say isn’t as funny as the wrong one. The wrong one works in a bunch of situations—and it is (in my opinion) funnier because it’s a misquotation, as the notional speaker is presumably wrong about absolutely everything, including the reference.


One Response to “Misquotations”

  1. Jed

    I like the name Casablanks for this.

    I followed your Hancock’s Half Hour link (having never heard of the show or the sketch or the Magna Carta line), but at first I thought it was a link to a clip from the movie Twelve Angry Men, which I only vaguely recall, so I was really confused by the laughtrack. But eventually I figured out that it was a comedy sketch parodying the movie and everything made a good deal more sense. 🙂


Join the Conversation