Wikiquote:Misattribution

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A misattributed quote is one that has been popularly, or notably, attributed to a person, but for which evidence indicates that no such quote has been authored by that person. A quote is misattributed where it clearly originated from other than the page's subject, or strong evidence provides no credibility to any claim of his or her authorship. Unless a quote can be proven to originate elsewhere it is of course very difficult or impossible to "prove" it did not originate with a cited author, but there are usually strong bodies of evidence which lead one to conclude the person should be assumed not to have made the remark, until proven otherwise.

Misattributions may arise for any number of reasons, including:

  • innocent errors in translation or restatement of an original quote
  • incorrect identification between two authors of similar quotes
  • use by a later author of a quote actually by an earlier author
  • slander of the purported author by attributing detestable comments to that author
  • overzealous defense of a belief by attributing statements in support of that belief to an authoritative figure

Wikiquote's policy on misattributions is to include them, but to clearly identify them as misattributions by placing them in a "Misattributed" section, and to identify to the greatest extent possible the actual author and how the quote became misattributed. The reason we include such quotes is to deal with quotes we have discovered to be mistakenly or doubtfully attributed. If we were merely to delete all these quotes, it would only be a matter of time before they were added once again.

In order for a quote to be listed as "misattributed" we must show two things. First, a verifiable source showing that someone has attributed the quote to the purported author (as with Clinton's asserting that this was a Franklin quote), and second, some evidence that the attribution is a mistake (either by reference to the correct author, or by reference to an unsuccessful search for evidence that the purported author made that statement). A quote can not really be called "misattributed" - and should not be included at all - if no one is attributing the quote to the author.

For example, Benjamin Franklin has a sections for "misattributed" quotes. One example is of Bill Clinton attributing to Franklin something for which no source in Franklin's writing can be found. A quote newly attributed to a noted figure who has been dead for centuries, for which no earlier source can be found, may be presumed to be an error.

Inclusion of misattributed quotes is not defamatory. While it would be defamatory to intentionally misattribute a quote, it is not defamatory to report that a quote has been misattributed to someone, so long as we can cite the source for the attribution. Provided that the "misattribution" was not done by Wikiquote itself (in that case the offending quote should just be removed), and provided that this "misattribution" was identified as such in independent reliable secondary sources.

Whether or not to report a misattribution should depend on whether the error is widespread and repeated in sources that are otherwise considered reliable. There is a duty to act on errors when they are identified, but whether to simply remove them or to report them depends on where they are repeated.

Wikiquote is not Wikipedia. In determining that a quote has indeed been misattributed, there is no problem with relying on original research. Wikipedia has good reasons for its policies, but they are specific to its function, and are not relevant to our very different function.