Americans habitually lean on quotes for self-expression. Quotes are used everywhere from memes and T-shirts to inspirational posters and billboard advertisements. It's understandable—why not seek inspiration in the grammatical prowess of Maya Angelou, the childlike whimsy of Dr. Seuss, or the inspired wonder of Albert Einstein to convey an idea? However, America's quote-obsessed culture often takes things a little too far by misattributing famous taglines and blurbs to people who never said them. Marilyn Monroe never said, “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” and Marie Antoinette never uttered, “Let them eat cake.”
Consider yourself a movie buff who can recite “The Godfather” and “The Princess Bride” in equal measure word for word? A bibliophile who can recall Shakespeare or Yeats on cue? Put your recall to the test with this quiz, which offers 50 famous quotes from some of the most famous philosophers, politicians, celebrities, fictional characters, and activists of all time. Each pair of slides in this gallery opens with a quote, followed by the name of the person who said it. Along with the proper attribution, learn when these quotes were said and why. This quiz draws on multiple influences, including historical figures, books, music, movies, television, politics, and more.
Think you can get all 50? Take the quiz to find out.
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“I came, I saw, I conquered.”
When Julius Caesar fought Pharnaces II of Pontus and quickly defeated him at the Battle of Zela in Asia Minor, he allegedly wrote these famous words in a letter to the Roman Senate. The year was roughly 47 B.C., and the words were written in Latin as “Veni, vidi, vici.” Today, the phrase has come to describe any triumph that occurs quickly.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. said these words during one of his most famous sermons titled, “Loving Your Enemies.” Although there is some debate over the exact date and location, most historians agree it was given on or around Nov. 17, 1957, at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. The underlying message of the sermon was the importance of embracing your enemies and attempting to win them over with love and empathy rather than turning to hate.
“Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.”
In the epic 1939 Civil War classic “Gone With The Wind,” the character Rhett Butler (played by Clark Gable) says this line in the final scene of the film. When Scarlett O'Hara (played by Vivien Leigh) asks him what she'll do with herself if he leaves her, he replies, “Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.” He then walks out the door, leaving her alone to ponder her fate and plot ways to get him back. The now-famous line created controversy when the movie was released due to the use of the word “damn,” which was considered shocking in that era and banned under the Hays Code.
"Well-behaved women seldom make history."
This popular quote, which often adorns T-shirts and coffee mugs, is often misattributed to Eleanor Roosevelt and other feminist icons. However, it was actually Laurel Thatcher Ulrich who said it. The Harvard professor wrote about reverent, well-behaved women in colonial New England in a 1976 article published in an academic journal, lamenting that women like that rarely make history (even at times when perhaps they should). Since then, the quote has been interpreted as encouraging women to “go ahead and misbehave,” although that wasn't necessarily the original context.
"Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."
This phrase is commonly attributed to John Lennon since it appears in the lyrics of his song "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" from the 1980 album “Double Fantasy.” However, the original source of the quote is actually Allen Saunders, a cartoonist of the 1950s who wrote the comic strips “Mary Worth” and “Kerry Drake.” He published a variation of the phrase in the January 1957 edition of Reader's Digest.
“If you don't risk anything, you risk even more.”
This inspirational quote is an excerpt from a poem in American author Erica Jong's 1991 collection “Becoming Light: Poems New and Selected.” The novelist is perhaps best known for her 1973 novel “Fear of Flying,” which was a staple of the second-wave feminism movement. Her writings have won numerous awards including the Sigmund Freud Award, the Deauville Award, and the United Nations Award for Excellence in Literature.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Standing on the Capitol steps of the United States of America, President Franklin D. Roosevelt uttered these words on March 4, 1933, during his inaugural speech. The 32nd U.S. president came into office at the height of the Great Depression when citizens were frightened, exhausted, and beaten down from the broken economy. Wages had dropped 60% and more than 13 million people were unemployed. American businesses were reeling from $6 billion in losses, and the outlook was grim. Roosevelt's words were meant to encourage the people and assuage their fears about the future.
“Say ‘hello' to my little friend.”
Few movie lines are as iconic as this one from 1983's gangster film “Scarface.” During his final stand, Tony Montana (played by Al Pacino) pulls out his machine gun and shouts, “Say ‘hello' to my little friend” before blowing away the door and opening firing on the drug cartel goons outside. In fact, the scene is so popular that it landed #36 on IGN's “Top 100 Movie Moments.”
“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is one of the most oft-quoted women of the 20th century, known especially for her inspirational and encouraging advice to young women. This particular excerpt comes from her 1960 book “You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life.” In it, she talks about facing one's fears and moving forward even when you're afraid. “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face,” she writes. “You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' […] You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
“To work without love is slavery.”
In her 2002 book “No Greater Love,” Mother Teresa offers a collection of her thoughts on love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, poverty, prayer, and other subjects. The quote appears in her book as she explains why it is important to feel love while you work or give to your cause. “You may be exhausted with work, you may even kill yourself, but unless your work is interwoven with love, it is useless,” she writes. “To work without love is slavery.”
“Better to die standing than to live on your knees.”
Although often attributed to Argentine guerrilla leader Che Guevara, it was actually Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata who first used this famous phrase. The influential leader, who founded the Zapatista movement and helped lead the Mexican Revolution, is also attributed with saying the similar phrase: “I want to die a slave to principles. Not to men.”
"There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish."
First Lady Michelle Obama said this in 2012 during a question-and-answer event with Twitter users. When asked whether she thought there would be a woman president any time soon, Obama responded: “Like I tell my daughters, women and girls can do whatever they want. There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish." The quote quickly went viral, and it has since appeared on buttons and T-shirts.
"The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."
This quote has been attributed to everyone from Nelson Mandela to Confucius to Ralph Waldo Emerson over the years. However, the original author was most likely an Irishman named Oliver Goldsmith. Before achieving fame for his novel “The Vicar of Wakefield,” the author wrote a series of letters in London's The Public Ledger magazine under the pseudonym Lien Chi Altangi. In 1762, the letters were published as a book and included the phrase: “Our greatest glory is, not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
“Here's looking at you, kid.”
In the famous 1942 film “Casablanca,” Humphrey Bogart's character Rick Blaine says this several times to Ilsa Lund (played by Ingrid Bergman) throughout the course of the movie. The catchphrase, which is used as a term of endearment, has since become one of the most well-known lines in the history of cinema. The movie was the source of numerous other famous movie lines as well including: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine,” and “We'll always have Paris.”
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor even touched, but just felt in the heart.”
These words appeared in Helen Keller's 1905 book “The Story of My Life” in the form of a letter she wrote to the Reverend Phillips Brooks at age 11. Despite having written the words, Keller attributed the phrase to her teacher Anne Sullivan, which is why Sullivan is sometimes credited with the quote, too. Keller, who was blind and deaf, went onto become a humanitarian and co-founder of the ACLU.
“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”
Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai spoke these words on July 12, 2013, as she addressed a United Nations panel in New York. She was only 16 years old at the time, but had already become a public figure after the Taliban shot her in the head and neck during an assassination attempt while she was en route to school. Yousafzai is a supporter of women's rights to seek an education.
“There is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
In the extended 1921 essay “A Room of One's Own,” English author Virginia Woolf wrote these words while discussing her predecessors, the women novelists of the 19th century. “What genius, what integrity it must have required… in the midst of that purely patriarchal society, to hold fast to the thing as they saw it without shrinking… Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” Woolf has been called “one of the great pleasure-givers of modern literature.”
“The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks.”
In his famous essay “Self-Reliance,” American poet and author Ralph Waldo Emerson writes this phrase as he talks about non-conformity and staying true to yourself. The idea of the quote is that the path from your present location to your destination isn't always a direct line and it's okay to approach your life in a non-linear fashion. Emerson was one of the key figures of the mid-20th century transcendentalist movement, alongside contemporaries like Henry David Thoreau.
“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”
Few preteen girls of the 1980s could forget the classic scene in “Dirty Dancing” where heartthrob Johnny Castle (played by Patrick Swayze) invites Baby (played by Jennifer Grey) to dance with him, defiantly telling her father, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” None of the people involved with the film knew at the time how iconic the line would become. In fact, the movie's writer Eleanor Bergstein later told the Huffington Post that it was a throwaway line Swayze didn't even want to say.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for.”
On Feb. 5, 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama said these words that later become a famous quote during a speech to a crowd of supporters following the Super Tuesday primaries. “Our time has come,” he told the crowd. “Our movement is real. And change is coming to America.” He then went on to outline the changes he wanted to see, explaining that in order to make it happen, Americans needed to come together and take action.
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
This biblical phrase appears in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John in the New Testament. In the story, Jesus goes up the Mount of Olives where his followers approach him with a woman who has allegedly committed adultery. They ask Jesus if she ought to be stoned to which he replies: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
“That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
When American astronaut Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969, becoming the first human ever to do so, he uttered these words as he took his first steps on the lunar surface. Armstrong was part of the Apollo 11 mission with fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin who also walked on the moon (Aldrin was the second person to do so). Throughout his entire life, Armstrong insisted that he actually said, “One small step for a man,” but in popular culture, “a” is usually omitted from the phrase.
“Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
According to Deborah Hedstrom-Page, author of the 2007 children's history book “From Telegraph to Light Bulb with Thomas Edison,” this was a statement that Edison made in 1877. The exact context is unclear, but it's in line with other inspirational quotes attributed to Edison, many of which deal with being persistent and pressing on after failure. Edison, who held more than 1,000 patents throughout his life, is credited with inventions including the light bulb, alkaline storage batteries, the telegraph, and the phonograph.
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
This inspirational quote, which Anne Frank penned in her diary while hiding from Nazi soldiers during World War II, is emblematic of the young girl's optimism displayed throughout the book. It is that optimism—her ongoing ability to stay positive even with the surrounding horror—that keeps readers intrigued by her generation after generation. Frank died of typhus in a concentration camp in March 1945, just weeks before the British arrived.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
When boxing legend Muhammad Ali fought world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in 1964, he still went by his birth name of Cassius Clay Jr. As the story goes, there was genuine concern that Liston might kill the 22-year-old underdog who was not expected to win. Right before he jumped into the ring, Ali (then Clay) said: "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see.” He went on to win the fight and become one of the greatest boxers of all time.
“I'm also just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her.”
The premise of the 1999 rom-com “Notting Hill” is that regular guy Will Thacker (played by Hugh Grant) falls in love with mega-celebrity Anna Scott (played by Julia Roberts) and drama ensues. In a scene toward the end up the film, Scott is trying to explain to Thacker that even though she is a celebrity, at the end of the day she is still just a human being with regular emotions. According to screenwriter Richard Curtis, the Anna Scott character was based on a hybrid of Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn.
“You can imprison a man, but not an idea. You can exile a man, but not an idea. You can kill a man, but not an idea.”
Pakistani politician and one-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto wrote these words in her autobiography “Daughter of Destiny.” Bhutto was the first woman ever to lead a democratic government in a Muslim country. In 2007, she was assassinated after an election rally by a teenage suicide bomber who fired shots at her before detonating the explosion.
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
Although this quote is commonly attributed to Mark Twain, it's difficult to verify the original source. The phrase doesn't appear in any of his writings, but a 1907 advertisement for a Daisy Air Rifle credits Twain with the quote. The author wrote dozens of novels and short stories over the course of his life, including “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Prince and the Pauper,” and “The Mysterious Stranger.”
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
On March 7, 2014, the Dalai Lama spoke at Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. and led prayers during the opening of the Senate proceedings. Although the Dalai Lama did not make this statement during that public speech, Sen.Harry Reid later quoted him as having said it offstage. Whether the anecdote is true or not, it was quickly attributed to His Holiness and now commonly appears on bumper stickers, pins, and T-shirts.
“What does not kill me makes me stronger.”
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote this phrase in his 1888 book “Twilight of the Idols.” Appearing in the “Maxims and Arrows" section, which was a series of single aphorisms about a wide range of subjects, the full phrase reads: “Out of life's school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Nietzsche died in 1900 at the age of 55.
“When I'm good, I'm very good. When I'm bad, I'm better.”
In the 1933 film “I'm No Angel,” Mae West plays the role of Tira, a sideshow singer who lands in New York and meets love interest Jack Clayton (played by Cary Grant). When Jack compliments her performance, she responds with the famous line, pausing flirtatiously before saying “I'm better.” The film was reportedly Franklin D. Roosevelt's favorite movie.
“To err is human; to forgive, divine."
The 18th century English poet wrote this phrase in his satirical poem “An Essay on Criticism.” The line appears toward the end of Part II as he argues the virtues of forgiveness. The poem references famed ancient writers like Virgil and Homer.
“It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That's the only thing that can save this country.”
On Feb. 19, 1965, human rights activist Malcolm X gave a speech to a crowd of listeners in New York that included this quote. Two days later, he was gunned down by members of the Nation of Islam at Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom, effectively becoming a martyr for his cause. Three men (Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler, and Thomas 15X Johnson) were convicted of first-degree murder in 1966.
“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
When John F. Kennedy was sworn into office on Jan. 20, 1961, becoming the 35th president of the United States, he made an inaugural speech in front of the nation's Capitol. In it, he said this famous phrase, asking Americans to step up and take part in public service. The speech inspired citizens across the country, but documents later revealed that Kennedy likely borrowed the phrase from an old headmaster who had previously used a similar expression.
“I'm the king of the world.”
In James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster “Titanic,” Jack Dawson (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) runs to the front of the ship after winning a ticket onto the boat and yells, “I'm the king of the world.” It's one of the most iconic scenes in film history, although Cameron later said it was made up on the spot. “[We had] tried this line and tried that line and nothing was really working,” Cameron told BBC Radio 1. “I said, ‘All right, I've got one for you, just say I'm the king of the world, and just spread your arms out wide, and just be in the moment, and just love it and celebrate the moment.'” DiCaprio momentarily balked but went on to give a great performance, and the scene became one of the most iconic moments in the film.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Although there's some debate as to whether Mahatma Gandhi said this himself or simply liked to repeat it as a mantra, the quote is widely attributed to him. When asked whether the Indian activist was indeed the origin of the famous quote, officials at The Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence said it hadn't been traced in Gandhi's writings but that “Gandhi was known to say this verse many times in his lifetime and believes it to be original with him.”
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again."
American poet Maya Angelou wrote this phrase in a poem titled “On the Pulse of Morning,” which she read at Bill Clinton's first inauguration in 1993. The next day, The New York Times ran a printed version of the piece. Angelou was famous for many things, among them her 1969 autobiography “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” which was the first nonfiction book written by an African-American woman to become a bestseller.
“In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”
This phrase appears in the third act of “Lady Windermere's Fan,” an 1892 play written by famed Irish author Oscar Wilde. However, his contemporary George Bernard Shaw is often credited with uttering a similar phrase, causing confusion. Shaw supposedly said: “There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other to get it." The two men were both Irish playwrights who shared a “curiously prickly friendship,” according to some.
"They may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!"
As rebel leader William Wallace (Mel Gibson) is rousing his men before battle in the 1995 film “Braveheart,” he yells out this famous line when a soldier suggests they retreat. The film was nominated for 10 Oscars, five of which it won, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup, and Best Sound Editing—but the quote itself has never been connected to the actual William Wallace, the medieval patriot on whom the movie is based.
“Wise Men learn by other's harms; fools by their own.”
Under the pseudonym of “Richard Saunders,” Founding Father Benjamin Franklin published annual editions of “Poor Richard's Almanack” every year from 1733 to 1758. In it, he quipped about everything from money and wealth to modesty and pride. The almanacs also included things like weather forecasts, astronomical information, and math quizzes. This particular quote appeared in the 1749 edition of the publication.
“'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson was a famed English poet of the 19th century who wrote the 1849 requiem titled "In Memoriam A.H.H." The poem carried the memorable phrase, which Tennyson scribed following the death of his dear friend and fellow poet Arthur Henry Hallam. However, most people thought the line referred to romantic love, and to this day, that's how it's typically interpreted.
"The unexamined life is not worth living."
This famous phrase, dating back to 399 B.C., is thought to have been spoken by the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates during his trial, which ended with detractors putting him to death for impiety and the corruption of youth. The scene is described in Plato's “Apology,” a written defense of his teacher and mentor. The defense is one of four accounts that Plato wrote detailing Socrates' last days; the others are Euthyphro, Phaedo, and Crito.
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
19th century naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote these famous words in his 1854 book “Walden.” The story is a retelling of the two years he spent living in the woods in Massachusetts. The quote, which encourages the reader to be an individual and follow their own path, is generally thought to be the source of the phrase “march to the beat of a different drum.”
"A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That's why they don't get what they want."
In her 1992 coffee-table book “Sex,” the pop queen shocked readers with 128 pages of content that some called pornography. The book was full of pieces of wisdom and advice from Madonna printed across the pages, along with lewd photos, poems, short stories, and raunchy essays. This quote from the book is in line with the singer's determined, headstrong attitude.
“Hasta la vista, baby.”
In the 1992 blockbuster “Terminator 2,” protagonist John Connor (played by Edward Furlong) is teaching the Terminator how to be cooler and sound less robotic. He suggests saying, “Hasta la vista, baby” when shooting someone who's giving him attitude. The Terminator (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) utters the phrase in an iconic moment later in the film, when he blows away the T-1000 who's been frozen in liquid nitrogen, proving he learned his lesson.
“You define your own life. Don't let other people write your script.”
In her 2014 book “What I Know For Sure,” Oprah Winfrey offers a collection of wisdom she's gleaned over the years. The above quote appears in an article titled “The Top 20 Things Oprah Knows for Sure.” Winfrey has claimed many “firsts” throughout her life, among them becoming the first African American female billionaire in the United States in 2003.
“Where we're going, we don't need roads.”
At the end of Robert Zemeckis' popular 1985 film “Back to the Future,” Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) is in the DeLorean time machine with his girlfriend and Dr. Emmett Brown, aka “Doc” (played by Christopher Lloyd). As they're getting ready to depart, Marty warns Doc that they don't have enough road to hit the speed necessary for time travel. “Roads?” Doc replies. “Where we're going, we don't need roads.” With that, he flips down his sunglasses, lifts the vehicle into the air, and flies off into the closing credits.
“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.”
Some historians contend that Abraham Lincoln wrote this phrase on a piece of scrap paper on Aug. 1, 1858, while others have argued that the “provenance of the tantalizing document is questionable.” Regardless of the when and where the quote originated, it provides insight into how the politician viewed certain issues. “Lincoln's definition of democracy in terms of slavery, however questionable as political science, cut to the heart of his thinking,” wrote G.S. Boritt in “Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream.” “It was certainly more than a mere political device; indeed he never appears to have used it in public.”
“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
This phrase appears in Act 5 of William Shakespeare's famous play “As You Like It.” Touchstone asks William if he is wise, to which he responds that indeed he is. Touchstone then retorts: “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost's ultra-popular 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken” has become an anthem over the years for individualists and free-thinkers who aim to take the less conventional path in life. However, many critics argue that the poem wasn't intended to be interpreted this way. In fact, many think the underlying idea of the poem is that both roads ultimately lead to the same place. “The two roads are interchangeable,” wrote David Orr in The Paris Review. “The poem isn't a salute to can-do individualism; it's a commentary on the self-deception we practice when constructing the story of our own lives.”