Author Sam Clemens, more commonly known by his pen name, Mark Twain, may have died in Redding, Connecticut, in 1910, but his superb storytelling, wit, and knack for humorous commentary in books like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Life on the Mississippi has kept him alive in the hearts of readers for more than a century. In fact, Twain’s unique brand of knowledge and wisdom about life, education, character, and death remain so popular, he’s become one of our most quoted (and misquoted) literary voices. But just how many did he actually say? Some of them are definitively Twain, but others, not so much, and it’s time to put the record straight. Here are some well-know Mark Twain quotes — that aren’t.
Mark Twain Didn’t Say That
7 Incorrect Mark Twain Quotes to Remember (or Forget)
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started”
Is there anything that is more true? You won’t get anywhere, let alone ahead, until you get started. A lot of sources attribute this to Mark Twain. However, many other sources claim that Agatha Christie made this astute observation. Unfortunately, we may never know because it can’t be verified one way or the other.
“It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”
What a zinger! Maybe this sounds like something Mark Twain would have said, but no one has been able to verify the voice behind this line. It could be a real Mark Twain quote, but sources say it could also have been Lincoln, Franklin, or even Galileo.
“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”
Contrary to Twitter, the art of writing one’s thoughts in a concise, organized, and meaningful manner takes more time and effort than just jotting down your stream of consciousness. It would be easy to believe that Twain said this, but Blaise Pascal, a french physicist and writer, actually gave us this insight.
“Never let schooling interfere with your education”
There’s so much to understand about the world beyond what’s taught in school. Again, this piece of advice sounds like classic Twain, and it’s likely he did say it, but not before Grant Allen expressed a similar idea in 1907.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”
For some reason, Mark Twain gets the credit for this line, despite zero evidence. This quote is actually pretty recent. American author, H. Jackson Brown attributed it to his mother in his book P.S. I Love You: When Mom Wrote, She Always Saved the Best for Last (1991).
“Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.”
We may never know for certain who joked with this line first. Both Mark Twain and James M. Barrie, writer and creator of Peter Pan, used similar phrases in the 1890s. However, accounts show that politician Ben Wade said something nearly identical in the 1880s.
“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”
Last but not least, another famous quip in the world of Mark Twain quotes that was almost certainly not his creation. Some sources credit Oscar Wilde, but variations of this sentiment have been noted as far back as the 14th century, suggesting that this is a proverb whose original speaker will be forever unknown.
So, even though your favorite Mark Twain quotes might turn out to be lies, there are still plenty of thought-provoking, funny, and clever quotes that he DID say. Here are a few of our favorites!
A few things Mark Twain DID say…
“Classic – a book which people praise and don’t read.”
“There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.”
“Travel is fatal to prejudice…”
Do you have any favorite Mark Twain quotes? Not sure it’s for real? Consult Twain Quotes for proof!
This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated.