Winston Churchill is one of the most influential people to ever hold the office of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He came to power in the darkest days of World War II and rallied Britain with his profound oratorical skill.
According to Churchill’s own account of his childhood, his was an unlikely rise to power. A slow learner, he never mastered Latin, which was considered a necessary part of education at the time. Instead, as he said, “I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence, which is a noble thing.” His sentences would serve him well in his career — and even move nations.
Churchill’s lonely childhood turned into a source of strength for him as a young man. He reflected, “Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong.” He read books to make up for his patchy education, and one of his favorite things to do was read quotations. “It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations,” Churchill said. “The quotations when engraved upon the memory give you good thoughts.” His love of old books formed the basis of his mastery of English. In particular, historian Edward Gibbon’s series The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, with its soaring phrases and elegant style, entered Churchill’s mind and shaped his future work.
The eloquent, rousing speeches Churchill made during the war were among the reasons he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953. His fame for wit, however, also made him a magnet for misquotation. For years, whenever someone heard a clever saying it was easy to claim it as another one of Churchill’s quips. In fact, misquoting Churchill was so common, the very phenomenon of crediting famous figures with someone else’s words was dubbed “Churchillian drift.” To set the record straight, the International Churchill Society compiled a long list of quotes falsely attributed to the former prime minister. Here are 10 of the most famous things Churchill never actually said.
Success consists of going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.
– Found nowhere in Churchill’s writings, and often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, also without verification
You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.
– First appeared in the works of Victor Hugo in 1845
Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.
– A lovely metaphor often credited to Churchill, but actually written by author and critic John Neal in 1846
This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.
– A supposed comment on a complexly worded memorandum, but with no link to Churchill
The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
– This classic Churchill misquote may have originated with English politician Bertram Carr in 1919
A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.
– First quoted in 1920 but with no attribution (Churchill’s jokes tended to avoid what he considered smut)
The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.
– Found nowhere in Churchill’s works, and unlike his other statements championing democracy
Americans will always do the right thing — after exhausting all the alternatives.
– Churchill may have shared the sentiment, but there’s no evidence linking him to this cheeky quote
If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.
– Unlikely to be Churchill as he was a conservative when young but switched to the Liberal party aged 30
The heaviest cross I have to bear is the Cross of Lorraine.
– Referring to working with French leader Charles de Gaulle. Churchill denied saying it, but added “I’m sorry I didn’t, because it was quite witty and so true!”
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