One man dies, a quotation is born

It’s not difficult to notice which story has been dominating the news this week. The death of Osama bin Laden has brought with it a variety of reactions from around the globe, the vast majority of it celebratory.

With one death, however, something else has been born – a quotation, attributed to the late Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.: “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy”. This very apropros quotation has been spreading around Facebook like wildfire, but perhaps it’s just a little too apropros – in fact, quite simply, it’s a fake.

The actual source of the quote was a 24 year old teacher called Jessica Dovey, who wrote a similar Martin Luther King Jr. quote and added the above as her own thoughts. It was then mistaken as a full quotation from the Reverend King, and spread across the web. If anything it goes to prove the power of the internet, that something can spread so fast, even if it’s incorrectly sourced. A while ago I posted about “ungelivable”, a Chinese-English hybrid word that sprung up out of nowhere and became extremely popular in China thanks to the internet – this fake quote has enjoyed the same kind of birth.

This kind of misappropriation is known as a mondegreen, though this term is more often used to describe a phrase or word that has come into being from mishearing (for example, “excuse me while I kiss this guy” is a popular mondegreen for the line from Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze, “excuse me while I kiss the sky”).

Perhaps Mark Twain’s (actual) quote is more suitable here: “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes”.

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