Quotes Uncovered: How Lies Travel

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I’m back to inviting readers to submit quotations whose origins they want me to try to trace, using my book, The Yale Book of Quotations, and my more recent research.

Smashley asked:

I heard recently that the quote, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes,” usually attributed to Mark Twain, is not actually by him.  Which is delightfully ironic, if true.

I am shocked, shocked that a quote attributed to Mark Twain is not actually by him.  The Yale Book of Quotations has the following entry:

“A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.”
C. H. Spurgeon, Gems from Spurgeon (1859).  An earlier version appears in the Portland (Me.) Gazette, Sept. 5, 1820: “Falsehood will fly from Maine to Georgia, while truth is pulling her boots on.”  Still earlier, Jonathan Swift wrote in The Examiner, Nov. 9, 1710: “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.”

Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?


"83% of quotes on the internet are falsely attributed." - Abraham Lincoln


My Daddy tol' me to do somethin' once when I was purty li'l an' I said to him, "What fur, Daddy?

He said:
Cat fur to make a pair of kitten britches boy. Why, do you want the first pair?

Find the origins of THAT! lol...

Lloyd G. Carter

"Whiskey's for Drinking, water's for fighting over"

Is this a Mark Twain quote?

Thomas J

“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” usually attributed to Mark Twain too :)

So who said it then?


The following, commonly attributed to Alexander Tytler, sometimes to de Toqueville:

"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves [largesse / money / generous gifts] from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship."


Great quote, indeed often misappropriated to Mark Twain or Winston Churchill, likely because Twain and Churchill are more famous than Spurgeon, giving more credence or punch to it. Ironically as you said, it's a lie!

Dave king

It was Winston Churchill who actually said a" lie will get halfway round the world before truth pulls its boots on.".. neither of the two you attribute this too... even more ironic methinks!

Paul Lawler

Umm...if it was published in "Gems from Spurgeon" in 1859, it could not possibly have originated with Churchill who was born in 1874. Churchhill may also have said it, but clearly he was not the first.

Pedro Gomes

"Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason". Some claim it is from Mark Twain, other from the Portuguese author Eça de Queiroz


How likely would it be that Twain read some quote by Queiroz in Portuguese? Specially when Twain was born 10yrs earlier and was a well known political commentator some 20yrs before Queiroz was ever published. Twain's disdainful style of prose and commentary is extremely fitting for the quote and so in the English language that at the time already had the expression "full of shit" for those who don't ever mean what they say. So t is painfully obvious that the "politicians and diapers..." Quote belongs to Twain. As Twain's version was actually published in newspapers, whereas Queiros simply is said to have said it in a speech when he was much older...

Petra Daniels

One of my favourites is "Every time you point a finger at someone, you point three back at yourself." A variant on the theme of pots and kettles, glasshouses and stones, motes and beams.