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The Most Famous Things Mark Twain Never Said

Samuel Clemens — nom de plume Mark Twain — was a font of quotable sayings, covering everything from the afterlife to adventure. His quotes are often funny, regularly sarcastic, and sometimes inspiring.

Though best known for his humor, Twain’s quips have been known to move people to action, to push them forward on an enlightening course. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” wrote Twain, adding with typical curmudgeonly wit, “and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.

Over a century after his death, the author remains one of the most widely quoted people. His maxims proliferate, pulled from everywhere: his books, his speeches, his autobiography, and interviews with newspapers and magazines. And sometimes, they’re even pulled from other people.

In fact, the beloved Huckleberry Finn scribe is one of the most misquoted folks in American history, with purported Twain-isms disputed and fact-checked on a regular basis. The 13 quotes below are not Twain’s, but they’re attributed to him so often that the origin gets muddied. Here, we give credit where credit is due — something that Twain himself, a one-time journalist and constant truth-teller, would likely have appreciated.


A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.
Written by satirist Jonathan Swift in 1710

Never let schooling interfere with your education.
Coined by the novelist and essayist Grant Allen in 1894

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do.
Written in the 1990 book "P. S. I Love You" by H. Jackson Brown, Jr. and credited to his mother, Sarah Frances Brown

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.
Attributed to an anonymous government researcher in 1968

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
Origin unknown

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.
Anonymous

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.
Written by French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal in 1656

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.
Origin is unknown

The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.
Said in some form by actor James Quin in the 1700s

Golf is a good walk spoiled.
Likely originally said in some form by an unknown couple called “the Allens,” friends of author H. S. Scrivener, in a conversation about lawn tennis in 1903

Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.
Written by journalist Frank Scully in 1950

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
A version was credited to Berlin doctor Markus Herz in 1912

Don't believe the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
Attributed to humorist Robert J. Burdette in 1883

If you ever come across a Mark Twain quote that you suspect might not be accurate, look it up  on the website Twain Quotes. The database was compiled by Barbara Schmidt, a 2017 Mark Twain Journal Legacy Scholar and author at the Center for Mark Twain Studies. Because, as Mark Twain didn’t actually say (though the anonymous quote is often attributed to him), “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”

Photo Credit: ilbusca/ iStock

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About the Author
Jennifer Billock
Jennifer is a writer, traveler, witch, and unapologetic Chicagoan. @jenniferbillock
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