“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
Mark Twain was supposed to have said that. But I can’t be sure — Mark Twain has been credited with all kinds of sayings that he may not have said. (Note the lazy “attributed” appendage to that last link.) But it’s true that with the increased speed of communication on the Internet, a mistake can spread worldwide and not get picked up.
A case of misattribution might have popped up on your Facebook wall, in light of a recent assassination.
Jessica Dovey did not intend to become the epicenter of an Internet-wide discussion about the nature of quotation, attribution, and Osama bin Laden. Yet that’s exactly what happened when Dovey’s Facebook-status sentiment — “I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy” — became entangled with a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote she also posted. Within a day and through no fault of her own, Dovey’s words had gone viral, misattributed to King.
Since I’m the language guy, I got a call from RTRfm 92.1 to comment. Here’s the playback.
If you’re serious about avoiding the misattribution trap, don’t believe a quote unless it’s accompanied by a source, and then follow the source. It’s the only way to be sure.