Q: What do the following phrases have in common?
1. You can’t change Chinatown, Jake.
2. Play it again, Sam.
3. Badges? We don’t need no steenking badges.
4. Beam me up, Scotty!
5. A rose by any other name smells as sweet.
6. I can see Russia from my house!
7. Elementary my dear Watson!
8. To gild the lily.
A: They are all misquotes.
The widely quoted lines from Chinatown, Casablanca, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Star Trek, Romeo and Juliet, Sarah Palin (Tina Fey said it; the former AK governor did not), the Sherlock Holmes series, and Shakespeare’s King John are all spectacluarly famous, but incorrect.
As for “to gild the lily,” the actual speech reads like this:
Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.
The speech is about a coronation, not a garden, but the misquote doesn’t change the meaning of the original—that decorating a perfectly beautiful thing is superfluous. But it’s curious that we only remember the bit about the lily.
Then again, as I stroll around the Halcyon Garden this morning snapping shots of blooming Asiatics, maybe it’s not so odd after all.
Incidentally, see below for the real quotes, oft misquoted:
1. Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.
2. Rick: You know what I want to hear.
Sam: No, I don’t.
Rick: You played it for her, you can play it for me!
3. Badges, to god-d***ed hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-d**ned cabrón and ch**ga tu madre!
4. Capt. Kirk never used that exact phrase. At various times he commanded his engineer thusly: Scotty, beam us up, Beam us up, Scotty, and Beam them out of there, Scotty, but the popular misquote was made famous by a bumper sticker.
5. What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet…
6. Palin said this in a reply to an interview question about Russia: They’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska. (Which is, of course, true.)
7. “I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Watson,” said he. “When your round is a short one you walk, and when it is a long one you use a hansom. As I perceive that your boots, although used, are by no means dirty, I cannot doubt that you are at present busy enough to justify the hansom.”
“Excellent!” I cried.
“Elementary,” said he.” (From The Crooked Man)
And by the way, did you notice that the final “lily” photograph was a botanical misquote of sorts? It’s actually a daylily, which isn’t technically even a true lily. It’s of the genus Hemerocallis, not Lilium. Thanks, Google!
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