Saturday, June 14, 2008

Harry Truman - Mis-quoted

Harry Truman wins the presidential electionAs some of you may know I have a website dedicated to US History Lesson plans, time lines, quotes, facts, etc... anything that would help a teacher research or share information.

A while back I decided it would be a good idea to add pages with quotes from Presidents. I added the obvious ones; Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, JFK and FDR, and Thomas Jefferson. I eventually added more Presidents, but the list is not complete.

This led me to add some pages for quotations from famous Americans (people that might be studied in a high school classroom), like MLK, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin, John Muir, Abigail Adams and Susan B. Anthony, to name a few.

For some of these quotations pages, I've added video, so you can listen to the quotes as you read them. I guess my website is finally getting into Web 2.0.

To find these quotes, I mostly use other Internet sources. I do occasionally ad quotes that I read in books or magazines, but for the most part I trust the Internet to be my accurate source.

Not too long ago I received an inquiry from a site visitor that read:

Do you know the correctness and creation date of this Truman quote: "Always be sincere, even if you don't mean it."?

I was taken aback... how could this trusted Internet site from where I pulled the quote be wrong? Like the Chicago Tribune paper he's holding... he's been misquoted.

I quickly used my research skills to get to the bottom of it... and within a few minutes had found the answer... I quickly replied:

Hi Jim,

I hadn't thought about checking the validity of any of the quotes on my site, but perhaps I should change that. I have put too much trust in the public domain.

I did some research and it appears like Truman was accidentally or incorrectly credited with saying this.

Here is the information I found from WikiQuote (

Attributed without citation in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (1992) by Angela Partington, disputed in The Quote Verifier : Who Said What, Where, and When (2006) by Ralph Keyes, p. 224, as something Truman is not known to have said, nor was likely to have said.

And i did find some other information which credits Mortimer Snerd with saying something similar - "Always be sincere, whether you mean it or not." Though this quote is also credited to Flanders and Swann, a British comedy duo.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I love the research. I will remove this from my site this evening.


Kevin Katz

And that was that... Harry Truman has mistakenly been given credit to something he never said. Jim wrote back to me with a great resource....

Thank you. I'm nearly 50 years old and I had always heard "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen so I was surprised the actual quote was, “Harry, if you can't stand the heat you better get out of the kitchen” [Truman, Wright
Memorial Dinner of the Aero Club of Washington, address 12/1952] the folks
at the Truman Library showed me how to access his public papers on-line <, click on "Archival Research," and then on Public Papers>

Another Truman quote taken out of context and credited to him...

Thanks Jim for bringing this to our attention.. and thanks for being a true scholar, and a true historian... always question... always doubt... and always seek the truth... Here's Jim's blog:

Let's trust Jim.. and the folks at the Truman Library...

And finally, here is the link to the updated and hopefully accurate Harry Truman quotes page:

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Ryan said...

As I've observed with my college friends (and me too!) we have certainly been too trustworthy of the public domain.
As a future teacher I've been thinking about how to encourage students to search for the truth by using a variety of methods and sources.
This is a great example of why it's important to do just that! Learning experiences like this will no doubt help others in the future.

PHHS Teacher said...

As teachers we must always check our sources. To paraphrase my former grad advisor, doctors take an oath to do no harm, teachers must take an oath to teach no wrong. I think this is extremely important since most of those young minds we teach believe we really do know it all (I know I felt that way as a student). It is also interesting that this comes up as I am making this comment in order to fulfill a requirement in a graduate course as part of a program on the integration of technology into the classroom and this very issue was at the heart of our last online discussion. One of the conclusions of the discussion was that facts and information should be verified by at least two sources. In reading this entry in your blog, you point out that many things are attributed to multiple people and we don't always know what the true quote is or who is really right in the debate of the origin of the quote. I think your example of the Truman kitchen quote being misquoted and taken out of context is a great demonstration of this point. Additionally, I was in a class where the teacher quoted Robert Kennedy as the author “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not,” instead of George Bernard Shaw. We must always do our best to teach no wrong and in this age of user created references, we must be extra careful to not be lazy and double check ourselves.

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