What is the most frequently misquoted catchphrase for films

On the trail of false quotes

"When the sun of culture is low, even dwarfs cast long shadows," is one of the most famous quotes by the Austrian writer and satirist Karl Kraus. But it didn't come from Kraus at all, says literary scholar and quotation researcher Gerald Krieghofer. The sentence was actually uttered by an employee of Karl Kraus and thus a "cuckoo quote".

Krieghofer has collected more than 500 false quotes from well-known personalities in order to find out their true origin. He is not alone in this thirst for discovery: Internet sites in all European languages ​​take up the topic, list the 10 most popular false quotes or make fun of false quotes, for example with this caricaturing quote next to a photo of Abraham Lincoln, which is also on Twitter circulates: "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet just because there is a photo with a quote next to it."

According to Gerald Krieghofer's research, Abraham Lincoln, along with Mark Twain and Winston Churchill, is one of the personalities who are very often misquoted. In the German-speaking world, it is primarily the writers Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Tucholsky, Karl Kraus or the statesman Otto von Bismarck. The most frequently misquoted person worldwide, says Krieghofer in an interview with DW, is Albert Einstein.

Wrong quotations, a phenomenon of our time

Gerald Krieghofer has researched Karl Kraus for the Austrian Academy of Sciences for many years. He has collected more than 50 false quotes from him alone. In the meantime he has expanded his collection to include well-known personalities from politics, culture and science. Your supposed quotes are circulating on the internet or in the media and are also often used in speeches by politicians. Krieghofer also receives a lot from resourceful colleagues. "There have always been false quotations and people have always been upset about it."

In 1868 the author Georg Büchmann dealt with "Winged Words" and tried to find the true sources for popular sayings and quotations. A book that continues to be updated to this day and has been supplemented with its own "Bonmots" in other languages.

"Imagine it's war and nobody goes there" - a quote that is wrongly attributed to Bertolt Brecht

"What is new nowadays are photos with quotations on the Internet. And I'll bet you that half of them are wrongly attributed," suspects Krieghofer. The many online collections of quotations are also a source of false quotations, such as this: "Where right becomes wrong, resistance becomes a duty." It is often incorrectly cited as a quote from the author Bertolt Brecht. "It came up in the 1970s, in the anti-nuclear movement, and at some point was simply ascribed to Brecht," says Krieghofer. It is similar with the saying: "Imagine there is a war and nobody goes there." According to Krieghofer's research, the slogan originated in the USA and is also often attributed to Bertolt Brecht in Germany.

Why we like to quote so much

Gerald Krieghofer finds false quotes everywhere: not only in the media, but also in quotations for dissertations or in a wide variety of speeches. "A lot of wrong quotes can be found in management guides. Obviously there is always a need for motivational speeches to appear well-educated. In my opinion, there are a particularly large number of dubious collections," says the quote researcher.

It seems to be in the nature of humans to adorn oneself with quotes from other people. Some want to suggest education to their counterpart with quotes and appear well-read, while others want to inspire their audience with powerful quotes. "If something is funny, in the German-speaking world, people like to pass it on to Kurt Tucholsky or Mark Twain," says Krieghofer.

Right-wing groups like to use supposed quotes from Reich Chancellor Otto von Bismarck

Neo-Nazis or right-wing populists like Alexander Gauland (from the 'Alternative für Deutschland' party) would like to use false Bismarck quotes. "Any slogan that fits into the political concept, you simply say that it is from Bismarck." Such a quote then gives more authority. And a joke is clearly funnier if you attribute it to Albert Einstein, says Krieghofer.

What famous people supposedly said

There is also what is called "secondary quotations" in technical terms. For example biographers who quote a famous personality they have known, even if the quotes may be made up. For example, Beethoven's secretary and first biographer, Anton Schindler, coined the supposed Beethoven words "So fate knocks at the gate." Beethoven is said to have told him this in relation to the famous opening motif of his fifth symphony, whereupon the symphony is still called the "Fate Symphony" to this day. The Beethoven researcher Jens Dufner, however, considers Anton Schindler to be a seedy person and doubts this quote.

What did he really say? Only Kafka knew that himself. You can no longer ask him

"With almost every famous person there is someone who wants to make themselves important by being close to this person," says Gerald Krieghofer. This is also the case with Franz Kafka and Gustav Janouch, who published the book "Conversations with Kafka" in 1951. "A lot of popular Kafka quotes come from this book, which Janouch only came up with 20 years after Kafka's death," says Krieghofer. Janouch never kept a diary of the conversations and they are therefore not taken seriously in Kafka research.

How to recognize "cuckoo quotes"

It is easy to expose a quote as false if it is attributed to someone who was not born at the time the quote first appeared. It becomes more difficult with quotations from supposed works or writings. This is where the libraries help, says quotation researcher Gerald Krieghofer. Research into proverbs and quotations is, after all, a philological discipline and there are corresponding standard works.

But laypeople can also search for clues. Over the past 20 years, millions of books and newspaper pages that are freely accessible have been digitized. GeraldKrieghofer has been working for a year to create a serious digital lexicon with his "quote research" on the Internet.

In search of the source

The literary scholar receives mostly positive reactions for his passion for quotations. "But I'm also a bit hated by neo-Nazis because I take away their beautiful pseudo-quotations." Although he is not threatened, he is always insulted on Twitter. Krieghofer takes it calmly.

His currently favorite false quote is: "Tradition is not the worship of the ashes, but the passing on of the fire." Gerald Krieghofer found out that it has been attributed to the composer Gustav Mahler worldwide for 30 years. But Pope Johannes and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe were also godparents. In fact, according to Krieghofer's research, the sentence first appeared in the French parliament in 1910. The citation researcher is proud to have finally found the real source of a quote.