Friday, November 20, 2009

Tinley's Law

Allow me to hypothesize. You can call this hypothesis "Tinley's Law" (if you want to).

The more frequently a quotation is attributed to a certain person the less likely it is that said person was the actual source of the quotation.

Or the shorthand version:

The frequency of attribution is inversely proportional to the probability of authenticity.

In my work I see the quote, "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words," attributed to Francis of Assisi often. Too often. Earlier this week, upon coming across this attribution yet again, I decided that there was no way that Francis of Assisi ever actually said such a thing. I was right.

(Of course, Christians would do well to "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words" regardless of whether this maxim originated with one of the faith's most beloved saints.)

Other instances where Tinley's Law holds:

  • John Wesley never said, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity." Nor did he say, "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, so long as ever you can." (Again, both of these statements are relevant to Christians regardless of whether the founder of Methodism ever said them.)

  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes never said, "Elementary, my dear Watson," and James Cagney never said in any of his movies, "You dirty rat."

  • Kurt Vonnegut never gave this graduation speech, and Maya Angelou never wrote this poem.

  • English statesmen and philosopher Edmund Burke never said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."


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