66 Responses

  1. D.Wood at |

    5. I hate the nitpicking comments on sites like this but I have to say that when Juliet asks, “Wherefore art thou . . .” she is not aware that Romeo is anywhere near her. He is hiding and spying on her at that time. I agree with the translation, just wanted to clear that up.

    Reply
    1. lorriann at |

      I was going to say the same thing about Juliet/Romeo. He is hiding at the time, not right in front of her, and she doesn’t know he is there. If she had, she never would have said all those things–she’s embarrassed he’s heard it all when he does reveal himself. (She is worried that he will now take advantage of her or think her too “easily won”, because she’s already spoken what was in her heart.)

      Reply
  2. Fred Matson at |

    Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is not sarcastic but ambiguous. The less traveled road has “made all the difference”. Was it a good or bad difference? Is it a statement of regret? That’s the poet’s intention.

    Reply
  3. Dennis at |

    Actually it was Jane Russel who spoke these immortal words in “Paleface” years before Kipling. In truth he copied Russell and put his own twist on it.

    East is east and west is west
    And the wrong one I have chose
    Let’s go where I’ll keep on wearin’
    Those frills and flowers and buttons and bows
    Rings and things and buttons and bows

    Reply
    1. redstick at |

      “The Paleface” was released in 1948. “The Ballad of East and West” was first published in 1889.

      Reply
      1. Dennis at |

        Redstick-Really?-Gosh-Who knew? Are you sure? I thought Kipling was on the panel on “What’s My Line”–No..Wait..That was Kilgallen..Ok..I stand corrected.

        Reply
        1. Scott McKinstry at |

          Hilarious!

          Reply
  4. Paul TKH at |

    I would have replaced “Wherefore” with another one from Shakespeare, from Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much”. “Protest” in Shakespeare’s time meant “confirm or avow”, not “reject or deny”. The standard interpretation is similar (“I don’t believe in this woman’s credibility”), but the reason why the credibility is called into question is the opposite of how people generally use it today.

    Reply
  5. Alice at |

    I think “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt” from Slaughterhouse-Five should be on here.

    Reply
    1. lezah at |

      why’s that? i’d really like to know because people have this tattooed on them so it would be interesting to know if they are doing this for the wrong reason.

      Reply
  6. Dennis at |

    Also Churchill’s statement, “never have so few given so much for so many.”–He was actually talking about the brothel houses around Liverpool.

    Reply
    1. redstick at |

      ACTUALLY actually, the phrase is “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”. Commons speech, 8/40. Reference was to the RAF who won (barely) the Battle of Britain, forestalling a German invasion.

      Reply
  7. redstick at |

    More than one politician (and auto manufacturer) has fallen afoul of Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A”.

    Reply
    1. Dennis at |

      That may be the best example on here of people misinterpreting. what is actually meant. Politicians look so silly at a rally with that song blasting in the background-It’s hilarious,really. (As a veteran I agree with the Boss on this one).

      Reply
    2. SB at |

      They play this song at the 4th of July fireworks in my town. I laugh every time.

      Reply
  8. Jason at |

    It’s “Ode On A Grecian Urn” not “Ode To A Grecian Urn”.
    Keats was recreating the pictographs on the urn, not singing their praises.
    Most misquoted titles in history…

    Reply
  9. Dennis at |

    When Oscar Wilde said “Art is quite useless” he wasn’t speaking about paintings,sculpture,etc. He was talking about Art Garfunkel.

    Reply
    1. Paul Simon at |

      Art who?

      Reply
  10. Harmon at |

    When Dr. Johnson said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, he was not calling patriots scoundrels.

    Reply
  11. FMH at |

    You are definitely missing a very important one:
    “Mens sana in corpore sano” (A healthy mind lives in a healthy body)
    by the Roman author Juvenal.
    It was used and abused as the ideal of man – to be great at sports and a genius at the same time. However, the text it was written in is a satire and the always left out “orandum est ut sit” (it is to be prayed for that…) rather indicates that the author made fun of the fact that you rarely find the two of them together in one body – only dumb jocks and weak nerds.
    However, that’s just one interpretation.

    Reply
  12. Podari at |

    I’m disappointed that this list ended on Sonnet 18 and MISSED what is most commonly misunderstood about it. Shakespeare isn’t complimenting somebody (man or woman) in the Sonnet, he’s BRAGGING.

    His starting inquiry, “shall I,” is almost like some guy going “want to see me make a basket from half court blind-folded?”

    He even ends the sonnet by bragging about the fact that he’s such an awesome poet that people will continue to appreciate his subject indefinitely by virtue of his incredible word skills:

    “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
    So long lives this and this gives life to thee.”

    Reply
    1. Bryant at |

      Exactly! I just made a similar comment and saw that yours touched on the same thing. Good to know it’s not just me. :-)

      Reply
  13. Bryant at |

    Sonnet 18 isn’t actually a LOVE poem at all, but rather a self-flattering ode to the powers of poetry! After the first two lines, the rest of the sonnet describes how time and nature destroy all physical beauty.

    Luckily for this lovely person, Shakespeare has written a poem that will keep him (or her) eternally young: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, so long lives THIS, and this gives life to thee.”

    Reply
    1. Jerel at |

      Yes. Basically “everyone will remember you forever, because my poem is going to last forever.” Which…well, we’re not quite at forever, but 400 years is a pretty good innings. We can forgive him for his exaggeration, I think, because he has to make the words fit the meter.

      Reply
  14. Dennis at |

    I think it’s silly to debate what fictional characters such as Romeo and Juliette may have meant or not . Let’s limit this to real people who actually existed in history such as The Lone Ranger who once said to Tonto, “A wet bird never flies at night,Tonto.” And Tonto looked at him in amazement and said,”what the hell does that mean, Kimo Sabe?”* Well,The Lone Ranger didn’t actually mean a wet bird COULDN”T fly at night-He just meant they don’t like flying at night and therefore they never do.
    * Navajo for “dupiosh” which is Polish for “dumbass.”

    Discussion Question:

    Was “F Troop” an actual documentary?

    Reply
    1. ladym00s at |

      You’re a very strange man. I can’t decided if I find you entertaining, but I’m leaning towards the affirmative.

      Reply
      1. Dennis at |

        LADY M

        You’ve broke my heart for real this time. Yes,I’ve been called “a little strange” all my life–Even thru my Navy days. But I would never have expected you to say it of all people–I thought we really meant something to each other. I still think you are intelligent and beautiful so please give me a break on this and keep leaning toward the affirmative.

        Love,
        Dennis

        PS: I do have some talent. I play the guitar. I backed up Elvis on “Kentucky Rain”–Ok..Ok..I’m lying-I can’t play a guitar but the women say I always smell good so that should be worth something..Right?

        Reply
  15. John Semple at |

    What about Shakespeare’s “First thing we’ll do is kill all the lawyers”? Everyone uses it like, “yay, let’s kill lawyers!” but in context it’s spoken by thugs who are planning a perfect kleptocracy–kill the lawyers, and you can break the law to your heart’s content…

    Reply
  16. Wordweaverlynn at |

    The title of the Frost poem is not “The Mending Wall.” Just “Mending Wall.”

    Reply
    1. TopTenz Master at |

      We have “mended” this mistake.

      Reply
  17. Dan at |

    With regard to #2, I think your missing the point, Nietzsche was clearly anti semetic, I dont even need to post a quote just read anything he has to say about Jews. That is why the Nazi’s lauded him.

    Reply
    1. Dennis at |

      When was Nitschke ever anti-Semetic? I know he wasn’t anti-Semetic when he played linebacker with the Packers.

      Reply
      1. Wombat at |

        Ah yes, The Packers, didn’t they go to number one on the charts with “Baby I want your love thing” in 1967? I’m afraid I don’t what kind of instrument a linebacker is though, it is like a Glockenspeil? Or some kind wind instrument?

        Reply
    2. Christian O. at |

      While Nietzsche abhored slave morality, that springs from Judaism and Christianity, he actually lauded the Jewish people – a recent article from Huffington Post cites Beyond Good and Evil, where Nietzsche states:

      “[T]he Jews are without a doubt the strongest, purest, most tenacious race living in Europe today….The fact that the Jews, if they wanted (or if they were forced, as the anti-Semtes seem to want), could already be dominant, or indeed could quite literally have control over present-day Europe–this is established. The fact that they are not working and making plans to this end is likewise established. Meanwhile, what they wish and want instead…is to be absorbed and assimilated into Europe….[T]his urge and impluse…should be carefully noted and accomodated–in which case it might be practical and appropriate to throw the anti-Semitic hooligans out of the country.”

      Firstly, he says that he believes that the Jewish “race” is superior to the European “races” and secondly, he says that the Jewish people did not control the world, as most anti-semites claim. They could if they wanted to, but they don’t.

      Furthermore, Nietzsche fucking haaaaated anti-semites. Not only did he want them thrown out of Germany, he had explicitedly called for the death of anti-semites by writing “all Anti-semites Ought to Be Shot.” In a letter addressed to his sister, after she married an anti-semite, he wrote:

      “Above all it arouses mistrust against my character, as if I publicly condemned something which I favored secretly – and that I am unable to do anything against it, that in every Anti-Semitic Correspondence sheet the name Zarathustra is used, has already made me almost sick several times.”

      Nietzsche loathed Judaism and all other types of religion, but he was not an anti-semite.

      Reply
  18. Lola at |

    @#5…I’m so relieved…I really thought you shot your R&J wad with the whole star-crossed lovers thing, when in reality the most misunderstood line is “Wherefore art thou Romeo?”

    And if I hear one more Disney sitcom kid reply with “I’m right here, babe!” during their high school production, I’m going to drink the apothecary’s poison!

    Reply
  19. Jay at |

    Everyone I know uses Star crossed lovers to refer to people destined NOT to be together, so I think you were alone there.

    Reply
  20. Dennis at |

    When the Joker was referring to Batman and said, “where does he get those wonderful toys?” he wasn’t talking about the Batrope,Batmobile,etc.–He was talking about Batgirl and her sister BoomBoom.

    Discussion Question:

    How far is Gotham City from Metropolis in kilometers? Explain.

    Reply
    1. brian at |

      Why so serious?

      Reply
  21. Jcool at |

    Not sure what you mean about Scalia creating hard law out of thin air. Regardless of what Frost meant about good fences make good neighbors. Separation of powers is a distinct american political doctrine. If you ever read the American constitution you would know that the federal government is made up of 3 coequal branches of Government (legislative, executive, and judiciary). The federal government was setup with specific enumerated powers and the powers not given to the federal government were left to the states i.e. federalism another form of separation of powers. Maybe you should read the federalist papers, the constitution, or Charles de Montesquieu.

    Reply
  22. Matt at |

    That’s an interesting interpretation of Sonnet 18, although I’m a little curious as to how you arrived at your conclusion. The first two quatrains point out how the subject is more beautiful than a summer’s day and how short-lived and unreliable Summer really is. Like most English sonnets, the first two quatrains set up a problem, while the final quatrain and couplet provide a solution. In this case, the final six lines read:

    But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
    Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
    Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
    When in eternal lines of time thou grow’st.

    So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

    It’s about achieving immortality through art, specifically poetry. The ‘eternal lines of time’ is a reference to the sonnet itself, and the ‘this’ in the final couplet refers to the sonnet too. Your argument that it’s about procreation is interesting, but you need to provide contextual evidence.

    Reply
  23. Adam at |

    THANK you for including Nietzsche on this list!!! Because of the Nazis’ (mistaken & misread) adoption of that quote about the blonde beast, so many people think his philosophy had something to do with Antisemitism.. when Nietzsche was far from an Anti-Semite!!! He wrote at great length and with some awe about the enduring strength of the Jewish people. His sister was the Anti-Semite, who received the rights to his works after he died. People who read Nietzsche by-quotation-only always, ALWAYS get this wrong (also, the aphorism that “God is dead”). These are usually the same people who say Nietzsche was a nihilist…

    Reply
    1. Raul at |

      Two ways:1- Close read the text. Go through it chunk by chunk and just write a note to ysruoelf in the margins what the lines are about. It will help you understand and remember what you’ve read.2- Remember, Bill’s plays are meant to be acted out, not read like a novel, so take a hint and act out the scenes! Close your bedroom door and act out the lines, I would always whisper them so no one could hear me, but I’m telling you it helps so much and makes Shakespeare so much better!

      Reply
  24. Vivon at |

    “Wherefore art thou Romeo?”… this is one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines. After all this time, I thought I knew what it meant. So “wherefore” means “why”… now it makes sense!

    Reply
  25. Erica at |

    While you interpretation of Frost is feasible, it doesn’t strike me as more accurate than the common read—and there’s much reason to criticize it. First of all, newsflash, the poem isn’t LITERALLY about a fork in the road—it’s a metaphor for bigger decisions in life (consider the significance of the speaker comforting himself with the fact he’ll come back and take the other path, but knowing he never will in lines 13-15, this sentiment makes no sense if the path is a literal path: why not come back and try the other one later? But in life, we so rarely get do-overs). Acknowledging that obvious metaphor, let us continue:

    The biggest problem with your interpretation is that you totally misrepresent Robert Frost’s commentary on the poem. Clearly, from what he says, he is not mocking “individualism” in the poem, as you say, but regret. He states that the “sigh” in his poem “was my rather private jest at the expense of those who might think I would yet live to be sorry for the way I had taken in life.” [emphasis mine].

    He goes on to state: “One stanza of ‘The Road Not Taken’ was written while I was sitting on a sofa in the middle of England: Was found three or four years later, and I couldn’t bear not to finish it. I wasn’t thinking about myself there, but about a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other.” He wrote the first stanza while remembering the friend who made a fuss over choosing pathways. Then he picked up the poem years later and finished it. Consider the relevance of the fact his friend went to war—that the once incidental trait that he carefully chose which paths he took would gain far more resonance in hindsight. And notice the lines: “I took the one less traveled by/and that has made all the difference” act as the conclusion of the poem. Modernists were playing with poetic tradition, but they often, particularly Frost who was more conventional than other modernists, invoked poetic conventions from the Romantics. The convention invoked here is that the poem ends in a TURN—or a shift revealing the conclusion of a central tension in the poem. The conclusion is: I don’t regret my decision—and one should not be indecisive and filled with regret. Frost is mocking his friend’s indecisiveness, as he states in the letter to the girl. And he ends certain in the path he has chosen.

    Also, you should know better than to take an artist’s statements about his work as the end all be all of a text’s meaning. Look at the actual text itself when interpreting it—an author only can see so much of his work, a lot of it is surprisingly subconscious: so much can be revealed by what other readers find in your work that you never even knew (I’m a writer and English major and have had this experience and know many writers who have had this experience). But it’s beside the point because in this case, the artist’s comments don’t even support your read!

    Reply
  26. Erica at |

    I believe youâ??re right to point out the Nazisâ?? misread of Nietzsche (although the read you provide is really shallow: the lion of Nietzscheâ??s work represents the second stage of transformation in becoming the ubermensch or â??overman,â?? Nietzscheâ??s ideal individualist who rises against the slave mentality of conformist thinkingâ??so itâ??s not a stretch at all to say the blond beast is a lion, he refers to the beast earlier in the essay and itâ??s central to his ideas). But I wouldnâ??t necessarily say the Nazis misread the text because they are, as you say, â??stupid.â??

    Nietzscheâ??s sister actually played a big role in framing her brotherâ??s work as being pro-national socialism. After Nietzscheâ??s mental breakdown, she edited his work and even falsified his letters, to promote, as an anti-Semite, her own bigotry. Thanks to her, Nietzscheâ??s reputation has long been the godfather of Nazism. Many philosophers like Bertrand Russel and Rawls have misunderstood Nietzsche as being elitist and pro-totalitarian not because they are â??stupidâ?? but because of how his work was framed. In fact, itâ??s likely some Nazis were well aware of what they were doing, selectively using Nietzscheâ??s philosophy to justify their horrifying practices.

    Reply
  27. Arthur Lindley at |

    The answer to what it is that doesn’t love a wall — ‘that sends the frozen groundswell under it’ — is, of course, ‘frost’.

    Reply
  28. Jesse at |

    This was great! However, unlike most of the 126 sonnets about the boy, Sonnet 18 is about how procreation isn’t the only way to keep the boy’s beauty and that the boy’s beauty will live through the poem’s line.

    Reply
  29. DT at |

    Wherefore means “how” not “why”. Romeo, how are you? She’s saying hello. She cares.

    Reply
  30. Chalkwhite76 at |

    One that I always love is “Had we the world enough, and time,” from To His Coy Mistress by Marvell. The line by itself is almost always used wistfully, like “If only we had the time to have a rich and full love.” What people seem not to realize is that the poem it opens is basically “I know that you’re ‘waiting for marriage,’ but you should really have sex with me.” He’s saying, “If we had the time, I would court you forever, but we don’t, we’re going to be dead soon, you should let me put my penis inside of you.”

    Reply
  31. MarkAngelo at |

    Whoever made this, I love you! LOL. I love the “Wherefore are thou, Romeo” part. It makes me laugh.

    Reply
  32. Sam at |

    I’m not sure about this whole post and don’t care enough to discuss but whoever Dennis is, you made my little piece of Australia giggle hysterically tonight, thank you :)

    Reply
  33. MB at |

    Shocked that with all the misused and misunderstood Shakespeare lines on here, “The world is my oyster…” doesn’t make an appearance.

    Reply
    1. TopTenz Master at |

      Enlighten us, what is the misunderstanding?

      Reply
      1. MB at |

        The common usage of the phrase completely ignores the line that follows it:

        Falstaff:
        I will not lend thee a penny.

        Pistol:
        Why then the world’s mine oyster,
        Which I with sword will open.

        This is not some ambiguous sentiment; it is an overt and threatening one. Shakespeare chooses the image of the oyster not simply because of pearl inside, but also because it was traditionally opened with a blade. It may be an image of readily-available wealth, but it is money to be specifically gained through violent means.

        Reply
  34. Dennis at |

    When Ben franklin said,”time is money” he did not mean that “time” was literally money. That would be silly–Ben simply meant that if you buy a clock you will have to pay for it.

    Reply
  35. kunal at |

    one more to the list :-Friedrich Nietzsche – “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” The above quote has got nothing to do with carefree dancing as much as it has to do with people who are gripped with passion n fervour n love n forget the nearby society n its stupid rules !!!

    Reply
    1. Walter at |

      “as it has to do with people who are gripped with passion n fervour n love n forget the nearby society n its stupid rules !!!”
      And just look at the sad irony of those that misappropriated so much of his work.

      Reply
  36. Jayney at |

    I would have added “To sleep, perchance to dream” from Hamlet to this list.

    So many times I have seen people quote this when saying goodnight, but I doubt they understand the true meaning.

    The whole soliloquy is about Hamlet’s contemplation of suicide, and the sleep to which he refers is death. He is then concerned that if he does kill himself and “sleep” he will be troubled by ongoing visions haunting him.

    Not quite the sleep and dreams that those using the phrase intend.

    Reply
    1. Nikkos at |

      I absolutely agree with this!

      Reply
  37. Nikkos at |

    I don’t agree that “The Road Not Taken” is misunderstood due to your proof found in the second stanza.
    When examining the lines “Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same” , one could also make an argument that, because the one path was “grassy and wanted wear”, the “equal wear” could mean the lack of wear. Since it is an unreliable narrator, we do not know if the narrator is the one who did not make the paths worn paths, of if society did not make the paths worn paths. If the narrator did not travel either path, then both paths were worn about the same, and this is in the sense that neither were traveled enough by the narrator for him to know which to take. But since one had more grass on it, it seemed to have called to the narrator more than the other. That is the counterpoint to your argument, and since there is this counterpoint, does that mean this poem has been misunderstood to begin with? Just a thought. (In addition to the argument about “regret” posted above.)

    Reply
  38. Nikkos at |

    Also, with “Romeo and Juliet”, “Wherefore thou art” is very misunderstood. Not meaning, where are you, but, why are you. Perhaps this should replace the “Frost” quote. Again, just a thought.

    Reply
  39. Nikkos at |

    I agree that the Lewis Carol line is misunderstood, but not for the reason that you claimed it be misunderstood for. Yes, there is a sense of sarcasm in the Duchess’s voice, however, it should be obvious that she is sarcastic to the reader. I think what is misunderstood is that love is indeed that actual focus of this part of “The Mock Turtle’s Story”. But rather the focus concerns a sense of order in the world, which then, in turn, falls back to your valid point of mathematics. Love, therefore, is a red herring. And perhaps those who quote this quote, might actually be using it in a sarcastic sense, and yet others do actually misunderstood the meaning. But, as I said, love is not the main focus of this section of the story. Lewis Carol loved children, and also used his college and the surrounding town as part influence to his work.

    Reply
  40. Nikkos at |

    As for “to thine own self be true”, yes, Laertes should roll his eyes, but partly because his father is going on and on, but also because he is a typical young man. Shakespeare knew this, and knew that often fathers dish out more advice then needed. But what came first, the cliches or did Shakespeare coin the phrases? Was Shakespeare actually passionate about the relationship between a father and a son, or lack of, in this point? Couldn’t have been that Hamlet wished his father was around to give such advice, and even beyond that, advice of how to frame his Uncle? So, therefore, is this line actually misunderstood, or more misused?

    Reply
  41. Nikkos at |

    (Never mind my comment about “Wherefore art thou”. I didn’t look at the entire website first. Sorry.)

    Reply
  42. Nikkos at |

    This is a great website, otherwise! :)

    Reply
  43. Will at |

    How did “Now is the winter of our discontent” miss the cut?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *