Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Episode 161: Beam Me Up Scotty and Other Misquoted Phrases Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 161: Beam Me Up, Scotty and Other Misquoted Phrases

Record Date: July 25, 2022

Air Date: July 27, 2022



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Shauna Harrison


And I’m Dan Pugh

Usually on the show, we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today. But I want to deviate a bit from that template this week. 

Opening Hook

In December of 2021, we did an episode on the phrase “Gild the Lily”. And during the research, we discovered this phrase is a misunderstanding of a quote. And it got me thinking, what other phrases do we hear today that are misunderstandings of misquotes. So that’s what we are going to talk about today. 


We’ll start off with a short reminder of ‘Gild the Lily’, in case it has been a while since you heard episode 138. 

Gild the lily, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means:


to embellish excessively, to add ornament where none is needed.

End Quote

It came to us from Shakespear, where in his 1595ish work King John, he wrote: 


To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,

To throw a perfume on the violet

End Quote

This bit was frequently cited in newspapers and books throughout the next 200 years as we document in our full episode on it. 

It wasn’t until the 1800s that we went from “gild the gold, paint the lily”, to hearing or reading just “gild the lily’? And while we do still see ‘paint the lily’ on occasion, ‘gild the lily’ is the predominant quote today. 

We make it a habit on this show to cite our work. This is mostly due to the rampant misinformation floating around the internet. And partially because we aren’t linguists doing original research, we are curious word nerds doing meta-research. And for the last segment, I just cited a work that I wrote. I had to do that in my college once, citing an assignment I did a year earlier because my Professor told me that was the only way I could use previous work in my future assignments. And then he proceeded to tell me how pretentious it was that I actually cited my own work in my paper. But now I’ve just done it again, in real life, Dr. Gallegos, so suck it. Though honestly, it does feel quite pretentious, so he was probably correct. Moving on!

Beam me up, Scotty

If you ever watched the original Star Trek series, you’ll know James Doohan as Montgomery Scott. He was often called Scotty by his fellow crewmates aboard the USS Enterprise, 1701 - No bloody A, B, C, or D. 

Our phrase refers to Mr. Scott, usually credited to Captain Kirk, as saying “Beam Me Up, Scotty”.

According to, Beam Me Up Scotty is used when one wants to:


Point out that something looks retrofuturistic, [Alternately, it can] serve as a humorous request to escape a certain situation.

End Quote

But as you’ve no doubt guessed, there is something wrong here. No where in the entire run of the original Star Trek did anyone say “Beam Me Up, Scotty”. It’s often attributed to Captain Kirk. And as I suspected, someone has been through the archives before me. 

Karl Smallwood, writing for, notes:


They did come close several times, such as in the 1969 episode of the original series, The Savage Curtain, Kirk says, “Scotty, beam us up, fast!“. Likewise, in the 1968 episode, The Gamesters of Triskelion, Kirk simply says, “Beam us up“. Kirk came closer still in the 1967 episode,This Side of Paradise, in which he says “beam me up“. 

End Quote 

They do come incredibly close in the 1986 movie, Star Trek IV: The Journey Home. That’s the one where they go back in time to get humpback whales. In it, Kirk says, “Scotty, beam me up”.

But as minor a difference as it is, the seemingly joint memory many of us have of this quote is a bit off. For uber Star Trek nerds, William Shatner co-wrote a 1996 Star Trek book called “The Ashes of Eden” and he did use the phrase there. But it’s doubtful anyone but the most die-hard of Star Trek fans would have noticed that. 

But alas, it may be James Doohan himself who got the last say on this and, possibly, sealed the misquote in the minds of yet another generation. In 1996, he, alongside veteran Star Trek novelist Peter David, wrote Doohan’s biography called Beam Me Up, Scotty.

Side note, if you are interested in Mr. Doohan and also Star Trek gossip, you should check out the book. I read it when it first came out and was surprised to hear him recount landing on a beach on D-Day during World War 2 as a Canadian army Lieutenant, taking numerous gunshot wounds and losing a finger in the process. He also has some salacious stuff about the original Star Trek which not-quite-adult Dan enjoyed but current me would probably skip. 

Be the change you want to see in the world

Our next one comes from Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian lawyer known for his leadership to gain India’s independence from British rule through non-violent resistance. He lived from 1869 to 1948. 

The phrase “be the change you want to see in the world” has always been a concept that I love. I don’t always employ it, but I think it’s great advice. There’s only one problem: there is no evidence Gandhi ever said this. I love the take from Brian Morton, who wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times, Aug 29, 2011 on several misattributions and misquotes. I’ll read the short bit about this phrase.


When you first come across it, this does sound like something Gandhi would have said. But when you think about it a little, it starts to sound more like ... a bumper sticker. Displayed brightly on the back of a Prius, it suggests that your responsibilities begin and end with your own behavior. It’s apolitical, and a little smug.

End Quote 

As Mr. Morton notes, it does sound like something Gandhi said. And it is pretty close. In fact, I feel comfortable saying this is a paraphrase of something Gandhi wrote in 1913. On the subject of… snakebites. From his Collected Works, Volume 13, in section 153 General Knowledge About Health, number 12 Accidents: Snake Bites. It begins:


Men have always feared snakes. There are countless superstitions, too, connected with the serpent.

You know what… I’m going to skip ahead 6 paragraphs.


Furthermore, is it not possible that the very existence of creatures like snakes or the cruelty in their nature reflects our own attitudes? Is there not cruelty enough in man? On our tongues there is always poison similar to a snake’s. We tear our brethren to pieces as wolves and tigers do. Religious books tell us that when man becomes pure in heart, the lamb and the tiger will live like friends. So long as in our own selves there is conflict between the tiger and the lamb, is it any wonder that there should be a similar conflict in this world-body? We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.

End Quote

So to pull out possibly the greatest bunny trail of all time, Gandhi goes from snake bites to the meaning of life stuff with “if we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” (Page 241)

I feel like the common phrase now is just a shortened, sexier version of what Gandhi said. So like Gild the Lily, I’m inclined to support it staying as is. 

We’ve got a few others to discuss relevant to stuffed animals, folktales, and Martin Luther King, Jr,  but first I want to say thank you to our sponsors. 

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon.

You can help support this educational artform and get awesome perks along the way! Tiers start at $3 a month, which get you our polls and community-only discussions, early access to the podcast, and the behind the scenes video for each episode so you can watch along as we make the show. 

At $10 you’ll also get original digital artwork from Shauna once a month featuring exclusive art about an idiom or other turn of phrase. At $15, you’ll also get personal on-air recognition like Pat Rowe does every episode. And of course huge thanks goes to the top spot among our Patrons, our Dean of Learning, Mary Halsig-Lopez. Thank you so much to Mary and all of our patrons. 

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Walk softly but carry a big stick

Our next one is “walk softly, but carry a big stick”. This is frequently attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, best known as the namesake for the Teddy Bear. No, wait, he is best known as being the 26th President of the United States, though he was the namesake for the Teddy Bear. More on that in our bonus content available to all our Patrons at

The actual phrase is “speak softly and carry a big stick: you will go far”. I found two examples where Roosevelt used the phrase but claimed it was already a phrase in use by others. 

The first I found was in a letter from then-Governor of New York Roosevelt to Henry L. Sprague dated January 26, 1900. This letter was in the collection of Steven Raab and sold to an unlisted buyer.


End Quote 

Roosevelt and Sprague would continue letters back and forth even as Roosevelt became President. Some of those letters are available in the digital archives of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library. 

The first time I found the quote used in a public setting was in a speech by then-Vice President Roosevelt to a crowd at the Minnesota State Fair on September 1, 1901 and then re-printed in its entirety the next morning in the paper. I’ll read the quote and then continue on as Roosevelt explains what he means by employing the phrase here.

So the phrase isn’t “walk softly and carry a big stick”, it is “speak softly and carry a big stick: you will go far”. Which makes sense as the phrase is meant to imply being kind, but having power behind you. 

Here are a few quick ones, from a 2015 article by Meredith Danko for Mental Floss (updated in 2022)



That quote, which went viral after Osama Bin Laden's death, is most often attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. However, it actually came from the Facebook status of a 24-year-old English teacher.

End Quote

According to Megan McArdle writing for The Atlantic in 2011, that English teacher is Jessica Dovey, who at the time was a 24-year old Penn State grad who was teaching English in Japan. 

Ms. Dovey’s statement was her own, and then she followed it up with a quote from Dr. King, which as it was copied and reposted, lost the separation between Dovey’s comment and Dr King’s comment and went viral.

Here’s another from the Mental Floss article



Machiavelli never said this, or its Italian equivalent. What he actually said is, "One must consider the final result," which just isn't as catchy.

End Quote


And one more from that article, 



The Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs conjures up her BFF by calling him "Magic mirror"—not by saying "mirror" twice.

End Quote 

Though there were a few suggest misquotes that I thought weren’t worth arguing over, like “Houston, we have a problem”. That’s what Tom Hanks’ version of Jim Lovell says in the movie Apollo 13. 

The actual quote from Lovell, according to the Apollo 13 Day 3 logs was “Ah, Houston, we’ve had a problem”. Which seems close enough for everyone to stop being pedantic about. 

Another pedantic point often made is relating to Frankenstein. No, not that pedantic point. It’s regarding the phrase “He’s alive!”. Um… actually, it goes, “It’s alive!”. I don’t think this one is worth arguing over. If someone says “He’s alive” just let them have it. 

And you may remember Forrest Gump saying, “Life is like a box of chocolates”. But the actual quote was past tense, “Life was like a box of chocolates”. This isn’t worth fighting over. Just let it be. The whole point of it  was the line that came next anyway, “You never know what you gonna get.” 

Wrap Up

And just like a box of chocolates, you never know what we’re gonna talk about on this show. This week it was about how every quote you’ve ever used was wrong. Well, at least some of them, anyway. 

So I guess the lesson here is never repost anything that is a quote from someone unless you can verify it was, in fact, that person who said it. And as Marylin Monroe once said,  “internet sources are usually wrong”. 

Of course, she never said that. But if we talked about quotes wrongly attributed to Marylin Monroe we’d have been here all day. But unfortunately…



That’s about all we have for today. We’d love to hear from you about the misquotes and misattributions you have run into. You can let us know on social media where we are @bunnytrailspod or comment on our website


Let’s wrap up with poll time! 

Recently, we were talking about how life could be more fun if we got an "Achievement Unlocked" thing to pop up when we did something new or cool. So we asked our Patrons what achievements they’ve earned so far.

Some of the commonly achieved ones were:

  • Attend a family reunion

  • Sell your house

  • Participate in a religious or cultural ceremony that was not your own

  • Visit a different Country than the one you were born in

  • Wear an article of clothing you made

  • Eat food you have grown

Some of the more rare achievements were:

  • Get fired from a job

  • Buy a boat

  • Get arrested

  • Stay underwater for at least 5 minutes straight

  • Go skinny dipping


So far I have done everything you have mentioned. I also liked the one Emily suggested “Move more than 100 miles”.


As a reminder, our silly polls mean absolutely nothing and are not scientifically valid. But Patrons of all levels get to take part in our polls, so head over to to join now!



Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember, 


Words belong to their users. 

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