Six Things Hemingway Never Said

The internet loves a good quote. Trouble is, the internet rarely cares if the quote was said by the person whose name follows it. It also rarely cares if the person being quoted would have ever, under any circumstances, said anything like what they are being quoted as saying.

What troubles me about this is that the result is often that important people, who said meaningful things, are turned into completely different entities on Facebook walls and in hashtags and in the kinds of stories that get forwarded on. One good example is that college classroom story in which Einstein proves God exists. Or a lot of the content in the subreddit /r/thathappened. This is also a practice that has been thoroughly mocked by Clickhole, as evidenced by the photo below:

One of Clickhole's many brilliant moments.
One of Clickhole’s many brilliant moments.

But worst of all, in my opinion, but also very hilarious, are the stories, quotes, and misquotes attributed to none other than the alcoholic, suicidal, and apparently benevolently-inspiring Ernest Hemingway.

Here are some of those misquotes:

1. Never mistake motion for action.


I had to dig around to figure out where this came from, and why it’s also attributed to Benjamin Franklin. And whether Hemingway ever said it, or anything like it. Eventually, I discovered that he is quoted as saying this in A. E. Hotchner’s Papa Hemingway.  Except that he doesn’t actually say the above quote. But here’s what I did find, which he did say, ostensibly, according to actress Marlene Dietrich:

The Real Quote: “Don’t do what you sincerely don’t want to do.  Never confuse movement with action.”

2. “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

This one is a bastardization of a sentence that falls within a much larger paragraph in A Farewell to Arms. This is a strange one. The sentence is close to the original, but when freed of context and muddled with commas, it becomes something entirely different.

The Real Quote: “If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

Oh, and for you Game of Thrones fans, here’s a link to an amazing use of this quote.  And the first image of said use of the quote:

We miss you, Lord Commander.
We miss you, Lord Commander.

3. “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”

People love this one. And yes, there is something vaguely Hemingwayesque about it. But it’s a complete fabrication.

I first heard it at a work training, then saw Esquire repeat it, plus so many other sources that are not worth cataloging.  But it has since been proven to be a complete myth, debunked by many. The best summary in my opinion is Open Culture’s “The (Urban) Legend of Ernest Hemingway’s Six-Word Story.”  Read that article, but don’t make the mistake of thinking Hemingway had anything to do with these six words.

The Real Quote: Non-applicable.

4. “Before you act, listen…”

There are a few versions of this one, and they’re all complete nonsense. At least the ones above resemble something he one said, on some level. This one is just insane.

I’ve seen a few versions of it. Here’s one:


The idea of Hemingway saying this is like attributing “Eat, pray, love” with Shakespeare. Or saying that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote Gone Girl. It reminds me of the Kurt Vonnegut novel in which he attributes all quotes to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. 

Real Quote: “Most people were heartless about turtles because a turtle’s heart will beat for hours after it has been cut up and butchered. But the old man thought, I have such a heart too.”

(Note: Nothing Hemingway has said ever resembles the above platitude, so I figured, why not a good quote from The Old Man and the Sea?)

Interested in reading fiction by the author of this blog post? Check out Books by D. F. Lovett

For more on Hemingway, check out Hemingway Against the Oxford Comma or The Snow Also Rises.


  1. How about this quote attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald:
    “There are no second acts in American lives.”
    Anybody know exactly where in FSF’s writing we can find this quote?
    I think perhaps the complete quote is
    “There are no second acts in the lives of American cities.”
    Also I read somewhere FSF may have been referring to the typical second act in a typical three act play popular at the time…
    Anyone know about any of this?

    1. There are a few Fitzgerald quotes you see a lot (this one, “show me a hero,” and the one about holding two contradictory ideas at the same time) that are almost never sourced. I think all of them are from his essays, which can be found in The Crack-Up, or maybe his letters. The frustrating thing is that they’re so widely referenced without the original source that it can be really hard to determine and they seem apocryphal.

  2. Maybe stop looking for word for word quotations from half a century old works and open your mind to the idea that the “idea” or the intention is the real meaning of a quote. Something that can be passed down regardless of comma placement and half assed intellectual “interpretation and debunking” by people who have nothing original to contribute to anything or anyone.

    1. Hmm. Thanks for commenting! You and I obviously have very different opinions on this. Also, I don’t think you read the whole thing.

    2. Mr. or Ms. Anonymous,

      Allow me to begin with the observation, if you are going to post a scathing critique of something, have the stones to put your name on it. Otherwise you are simply an Internet Troll whose opinion has no value! According to your post, you feel if a quote is wise, empowering, and/or well stated, it is worthy of respect and preservation. You also disdain the grammatical dissection of statement and “half-assed intellectual interpretation and debunking”; that such is done only by those “who have nothing original to contribute”. Here is why your blanket reverence of good quotes and your scorn of those who challenge them are erroneous.

      First, there is the responsibility owed to Truth. To allow with impunity the misquotes and misattributions -much less to pass them down in perpetuity- based on the degree of inspiration or wisdom is as misguided and illogical as giving a passing grade to a student whose test answers are factually wrong yet are well stated. Should a person be granted a medical degree if, despite being incorrect physiologically, biologically, chemically, etc., WOW those answers were inspirational. So the medical licensing board should turn a blind eye to the erroneous answers and pass the student because the errors are well stated? In the case of misquotes and misattributions, on whom do we bestow the measuring stick to determine if the inaccuracy is worthy of pardon? If passes are to be given to inaccuracy, where on that measuring stick do we draw the line and who will determine that mark? In whom do we invest the authority to determine if the instance is sufficiently inspirational enough to overlook? Even just reading the previous statement, I marvel at how ludicrous the idea sounds.

      Then there is the responsibility to Intellectual Integrity. To perpetuate misquotes or misattribute wise words to someone who never said them is license to do the same with negatives as well. To overlook misattributions and misquotes simply because to words are well stated and inspirational without question or correction encourages the blind acceptance of slander and libelous statements without question as well. When we as an intellectual species cease to question sources, to verify accuracy, to debate interpretations, and simply accept everything published or said without scrutiny (sadly, too many people do so already as demonstrated by the Trump debacle) those with an agenda will take advantage.
      Next, there is the responsibility to Artistic Integrity. Such as the case of the “The world breaks everyone..” quote, the inspirational platitude derived from misquoting Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms obscures the message Hemingway intended to communicate in that brutally disconsolate passage. Hemingway certainly was not one to write cheerful homilies, so the attribution of this misquote to him was dubious. Additionally, while the bastardized quote is uplifting and hopeful, the sentiment is so far astray from the horrors of war and, by extension, the cruel world and life in general, and the consequence that all things -even love- fall as collateral damage A Farewell to Arms represents.

      Lastly, to address your scorn for the dissection of grammatical elements. What possible difference does the placement of a mere comma make in the grand scheme of things? HUGE!!! The placement of the lowly comma in a sentence has been known to make or break fortunes. For example, in a landmark case involving truck drivers who sued a dairy manufacturer/distributor for years of unpaid overtime, it was the absence of comma that won their case and $10 million dollars.

  3. You kind of come across as a dumb cunt in this one… for instance: anyone actually paying attention really does know Hemingway’s actual “the world breaks everyone” quote, including its context; and so to include such an ignorant reduction of it in this list, as you’ve done here, frankly comes across as intellectually lazy (if not downright dishonest), at best – and perhaps even sinking into the realm of the genre of “fake news” you people have taken to causing such a (manufactured and ridiculous) fuss over recently.

    So, I guess I’ll just suggest that maybe you should try to find a job at buzzfeed, jezebel, or huffpo – where this category of clearly bullshit listicles are still somehow monetized (for the time being, at least).

    Or if you can’t even manage that low hurdle, kindly consider shutting the fuck up and / or getting the fuck out, with my thanks.


    Kevin Pratt
    (My real name, not being a leftist pussy.)

    1. So, I guess in that vain, you too are a dumb cunt and just a basic asshole. You spent more time writing your insults and meaningless rant than contributing. Can’t just read without flaming, huih? I suggest that maybe you ARE a leftist pussy, but don’t realize it yet…

  4. It seems extremely pedantic to distinguish between:
    “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”
    “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

    After all, The article is titled “Six Things Hemingway Never Said,” not “Five Things Hemingway Never Said Plus One I Tacked on Because I do not Think People Understand it.”

    1. One does not have to be a pedant to know that “many” and “some” have very different meanings. And that Hemingway was very particular about how he used commas.

      1. One does not need to be a pedant to know any two words have different meanings. However, distinguishing between the terms some and many is about as pedantic as it gets. Both are indefinite.

        And that six of one is half a dozen of the other.

      2. “Many” = a large amount. “Some” = any amount.

        Furthermore, one is in the original quote and the other is not.

  5. Pedantry is not being incorrect, as your responses seem to indicate; it is the opposite.
    Your responses do not disprove pedantry: they are consonant.
    You reinforce it by remaining obstinate.

  6. I enjoyed this article. As for the negative comments, it’s unfortunate that some people resort to insults and abuse when faced with logical opposition to their viewpoint. If your argument is valid, then use it. If it’s not, and you can’t, at least have the decency to bow out gracefully. ‘Yikes’ indeed!

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