Wordsmiths like Shakespeare and Robert Frost loved their sarcasm.
But when you take comments out of context, they can mean the exact opposite of the author’s intention.
That hasn’t stopped people from spouting famous lines, many from classic literature, however they see fit.
We created a list of some frequently used quotes that people just don’t understand.
1. ‘Money is the root of all evil.’
Not really. The love of money is the root of all evil, according to Timothy 6:10 from the King James Bible.
2. ‘I took the road less traveled.’
In Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” he tries to decide which of two paths he should take. He looks down one but chooses the second, “just as fair” and “worn really about the same.”
If you read the entire poem, the last stanza regales how he’ll say “with a sigh” that his decision “made all the difference.” In reality, Frost arbitrarily chose his path, which didn’t matter in the long run. Today most people use the quote as evidence of “forging your own path.”
3. ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?’
In most high school adaptations of Shakespeare’s well-known play, Juliet raises a hand to her furrowed brow, searching for her lover from a balcony. But “wherefore art” doesn’t mean “where.” It means “why.” Juliet questions why fate made Romeo a Montague, her family’s sworn enemy.
4. ‘Nice guys finish last.’
Nice guys actually finish seventh. Leo Durocher, nicknamed Leo the Lip, served as the field manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers during the height of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry. He made some comment about Mel Ott, right-fielder for the Giants, being too nice, which made the team finish in seventh place. “Baseball Digest” later reprinted the column in which his quote appeared but changed “seventh” to “last place,” according to Freakonomics blog.
5. ‘Love makes the world go ’round.’
The Duchess, a hideous character in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” makes this comment in passing right after she advocates beating her baby for sneezing. In context, the author meant the sweet quip sarcastically.
6. ‘Blood is thicker than water.’
The original phrase means the opposite of how this is used. An earlier proverb preached, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” In this case, “water of the womb” refers to family while “blood of the covenant” means blood shed by soldiers. So really, military bonds trump your siblings and parents.
7. ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.’
In Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” Maria writes a letter to Malvolio, trying to convince him that another character, Olivia, loves him — dramatic, right? Maria uses the quote to appeal to Malvolio’s ego, that Olivia (the false author) cannot deny his greatness.
8. ‘Care killed the cat.’
The idiom first came up in a 1598 play by Ben Jonson, and later in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about Nothing” and read “care killed the cat.” Care in this case meant worry or sorrow, a much different meaning that warning about being inquisitive in matters that don’t pertain to you.
Christina Sterbenz contributed to a previous version of this post.
9. ‘The Devil is in the details.’
Lazy people somehow bastardized a brilliant German architect’s words to mean the exact opposite. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe really said, “God is in the details.” He’s also credited with another famous aphorism: “Less is more.”