Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Everyone knows, or at least I hope everyone knows, that neither Bogey nor Ingrid Bergman ever said "Play it again, Sam." in Casablanca. Sometimes, the misquote becomes more iconic and memorable than the no doubt less-than-perfect original.

"Elementary, my dear Watson." is one of 'em. Sir Arthur's etheric remains must be twirling in a tizzy, wishing it'd thought of it first.

Picture Plum sitting at his typewriter, joining up one sheet of paper to the other so that he need not interrupt his own genius. Psmith takes shape on the page. And at Plum's shoulder, something else takes shape -- Sir Arthur Ectoplasm, tinged green with envy, watches Plum as he types the immortal words and puts them in Psmith's mouth.

The Oxford Dictionary Of Quotations, edited by Elizabeth Knowles, now has a section on misquotations.

Ms Knowles said: "The last thing we want is to be seen as clever clogs,
saying that these quotes are wrong. The fascination lies in how and why they
were altered. Misquotations are much more interesting than mistakes."

Sherlock Holmes's trademark phrase is a key example in the collection,
entitled They Never Said That, which Oxford University Press publishes this
week. The nearest the fictional detective got to "elementary" was a single use
of the word in one short story, The Crooked Man, published in 1894. The full
phrase was coined 21 years later by PG Wodehouse, in Psmith, Journalist, whose
hero tacks on the remainder of the phrase.

Ms Knowles said: "It's an example of a misquotation which sounds much
more in keeping than the original."

Anyone who has read Nigel Rees will have a store of quotes, unquotes and misquotes. Like he says, there are some things that, "once heard are never remembered accurately."

Feel free to misquote him on that.. Link to the Guardian article here.

More from Quote...Unquote here.


Anonymous said...

"Excellent", I cried. "Elementary", said he.
That was the only time he came close to saying it.

And, if you have seen Ray's Gupi Gayin Bagha Bayin, then you would know that the King of Ghosts also said his own version of "Play it again, Gupi"!

Space Bar said...

hey dipta,

i have seen goopy, but since i was 13 then and the print was unsubtitled (see my post, my own cinema paradiso) i'd have missed it!

how's the little one?

the mad momma said...

hey... enjoyed this post... thank God the drought is over. you really must post more often space bar!