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The Most Famous Things Ernest Hemingway Never Said

Ernest Hemingway was one of America’s most influential writers, known for 20th-century classics such as The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize for Literature, Hemingway wrote in an understated and deceptively simple style that belies considerable depth and meaning. That’s why so many people quote — and often misquote — Hemingway to this day.

The author and larger-than-life figure penned a host of relevant musings, including “The way to make people trust-worthy is to trust them,” and “Courage is grace under pressure.” But many Hemingway fans mistakenly put words in his mouth, such as “Write drunk, edit sober,” a famous quote attributed to the author — despite the fact that he never said it. Now, it’s not that Hemingway was against alcohol. He imbibed everything from daiquiris to champagne to rice wine to whiskey. But he wasn’t a fan of inebriated writing; according to one interview, Hemingway never actually wrote drunk.

Why is Hemingway the victim of so many misattributed quotes? According to the Hemingway Society, the problem may stem from either the desire to popularize lesser-known writers, meme creators seeking to create something new and catchy, or the simple fact that separating a quote from its original source sometimes makes it more positive. It “decontextualizes” the quote, giving it the chance for a new, positive spin — especially with “Hemingway’s” stamp of approval.

“Write drunk, edit sober” merely scratches the surface of the vast library of misattributed Hemingway quotes. Here are 10 additional quotes the beloved author never said.

For sale, baby shoes, never worn.

There is no evidence Hemingway actually wrote this quote, but experts also can’t pinpoint its origin. The likeliest explanation is early-1900s newspaper advertisements, where phrases such as “for sale, baby carriage; never been used” were printed regularly.

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.

This simple but relevant quote reads like a Hemingway musing, but he didn’t write this phrase, either. Renowned fantasy and science-fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin penned this popular phrase in her 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness.

We are all broken — that’s how the light gets in.

Hemingway did write about how to be strong during broken phases (“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places”), but he’s not the author of this particular quote. It’s likely a merging of Hemingway’s words and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen’s song "Anthem," which features the lyrics: “There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting that you are special too.

Some say this one came from Hemingway’s short-story collection Men Without Women, but that’s another false quote to the author’s name. It’s believed to have originated from writer Marc Chernoff’s 2011 blog post, “30 things to stop doing to yourself.”

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.

This quote actually surfaced two years before Hemingway’s 1899 birth, which means there’s no way the author could have popularized this phrase. Lecturer W.L. Sheldon penned this one in his collection of Ethical Addresses in 1897.

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Like most writers, Hemingway enjoyed the final product much more than the writing process, but he’s not the true author of this relatable quote. It’s believed to be an adaptation of sportswriter Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith’s 1949 quote, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” Writer Paul Gallico uttered a similar sentiment with this metaphor in 1946: “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.”

Before you act, listen.

This simple but striking quote has all the makings of a Hemingway maxim, but yet again, the words aren’t his. Experts believe the quote originated from motivational writer William Arthur Ward’s poem, which reads: “Before you speak, listen. Before you write, think. Before you spend, earn. Before you invest, investigate. Before you criticize, wait. Before you pray, forgive. Before you quit, try. Before you retire, save. Before you die, give.”

I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?

The self-deprecating realness in this quote definitely sounds right up Hemingway’s alley, but this one is also misattributed. The true source has yet to be confirmed.

Humans need two years to learn to speak and sixty years to learn to shut up.

This Hemingway misquote originated in the early 1900s. A 1909 editorial in the Wenatchee, Washington, local newspaper included a similar phrase: “It takes a person two years to learn how to talk and all the rest of his life to learn to keep from talking too much.” Newspapers republished variations of this phrase for years after.

People are dying that have never died before.

While Hemingway did write this phrase in the mid-1900s, it’s not his original work — and he didn’t try to mask that fact. Hemingway attributed this phrase to his friend and boat captain Edward “Bra” Saunders, the phrase’s originator. Almost 100 years later, a viral meme also incorrectly attributed the quote to U.S. President Joe Biden.

Photo credit:  PhotoQuest/ Contributor/ Getty Images

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About the Author
Stephanie Vermillion
Stephanie is an Ohio-based writer and photographer who's never met a slice of pizza she didn't like — or inhale.
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