George Didn't Say That! (Part 1: Introduction)
[ Click here to skip to PART 2: The Bogus Quote List ]
There are a lot of quotations and essays on the internet that are attributed to "George Carlin". Some of these he really did say. But many of them, he never said. They're other people's words (essays, joke lists, rants, 'inspirational' quotes, etc.) which have been falsely attributed to Carlin.
This is part one of a 2-part exploration of these bogus Carlin quotes.
If you want to see a list of the actual fake quotes that have been floating around the internet, and how we know they're fake, click here to skip to PART 2: The Bogus Quote List. Otherwise, please read this page, which is part 1, and serves as an introduction to part 2.
This page you're reading right now (part 1) covers the following:
- Carlin's very own thoughts on the problem, from an essay he wrote for his official website in 2001
- My thoughts on the problem, and on bogus quotes in general
- Why it's a big deal
- Tips on how to tell apart a fake Carlin quote from a real Carlin quote
- Refutations of the faulty arguments and lame excuses some people use to keep using these fake quotes
So, let's begin!
Honest Abe Said It Best
"The problem with quotes on the Internet, is that it's hard to verify their authenticity."
- Abraham Lincoln
Yes, most of you have probably seen that joke before. It does however prove an important point.
Every minute, people find quotations on the internet from some famous person or another, and immediately share them with other people through email, Facebook, Twitter, a blog, or some other means. But rarely do they ever stop to verify the quote, to see if the famous person actually said it. It doesn't help that most websites that collect famous quotations (e.g., BrainyQuote, IMDB) accept whatever people submit without question. Nor do they list the source of the quote, such as a book or interview. Wikiquote.org is a site where people best try to stick to only quotes that can be verified in some way (and I've personally contributed to the Carlin page there), but even there, stuff slips through on occasion.
Sadly, George Carlin has been one of the biggest victims of false quotations on the internet. While there are a lot of accurate quotations out there, many of the other quotations you see attributed to him are about as authentic as that Lincoln quote. You would think such a critical thinker and skeptic like George Carlin wouldn't have so many "fans" who never question the authenticity of a "George Carlin" quote they find on the Internet. But alas, the problem still persists.
Back in 2001, Carlin wrote a small essay to address this issue. It was up on his official website (georgecarlin.com) up until late 2012, when it apparently got deleted in the process of revamping the website. Fortunately, I was able to retrieve a copy from here. I've reproduced the full essay below:
DON'T BLAME ME
Floating around the Internet these days, posted and e-mailed back and forth, are a number of writings attributed to me, and I want people to know they're not mine. Don't blame me.
Some are essay-length, some are just short lists of one and two-line jokes, but if they're flyin' around the Internet, they're probably not mine. Occasionally, a couple of jokes on a long list might have come from me, but not often. And because most of this stuff is really lame, it's embarrassing to see my name on it.
And that's the problem. I want people to know that I take care with my writing, and try to keep my standards high. But most of this "humor" on the Internet is just plain stupid. I guess hard-core fans who follow my stuff closely would be able to spot the fake stuff, because the tone of voice is so different. But a casual fan has no way of knowing, and it bothers me that some people might believe I'd actually be capable of writing some of this stuff.
"PARADOX OF OUR TIME"
One of the more embarrassing items making the internet/e-mail rounds is a sappy load of shit called "The Paradox of Our Time." The main problem I have with it is that as true as some of the expressed sentiments may be, who really gives a shit? Certainly not me.
I figured out years ago that the human species is totally fucked and has been for a long time. I also know that the sick, media-consumer culture in America continues to make this so-called problem worse. But the trick, folks, is not to give a fuck. Like me. I really don't care. I stopped worrying about all this temporal bullshit a long time ago. It's meaningless. (See the preface of "Braindroppings.")
Another problem I have with "Paradox" is that the ideas are all expressed in a sort of pseudo-spiritual, New-Age-y, "Gee-whiz-can't-we-do-better-than-this" tone of voice. It's not only bad prose and poetry, it's weak philosophy. I hope I never sound like that.
HOW TO SPOT A FAKE
Here's a rule of thumb, folks: Nothing you see on the Internet is mine unless it came from one of my albums, books, HBO shows, or appeared on my website. If you see something with my name on it, and you really need to find out if it's mine, post a question on my bulletin board . But only if it's really important to you; don't fuck around with me for a lark.
- George Carlin, 2001. Originally found at http://www.georgecarlin.com/home/dontblame.html
The page also provided links to some of the more popular fakes at the time, such as "I AM A BAD AMERICAN" and several joke lists. I've incorporated those links into my collection of bogus Carlin quotes on the next page.
How to determine whether or not a quote is authentic
Carlin already gave us a good guideline above. But let's elaborate here and apply some logic.
- If we can find the quote in an OFFICIAL source, then we can say it's authentic. The best official sources would be his albums, his HBO specials, bootlegs of his actual live shows, and his own books. These are the best because we can hear or read the words of Carlin from Carlin himself. Other reliable sources would be interviews and his official website, because both of these would have been authorized. So the bottom line is that if we can trace back a quote, word for word, to one of these sources, then it's safe to say he really said it.
- If we CAN'T find evidence from an official source of Carlin really saying it, then we have to look further:
- If Carlin himself explicitly said that he didn't say it, then it's safe to say that he didn't say it.
- If we can't find the quote in an official source, but we can find something that's extremely similar, then the reasonable conclusion is that somebody just did a bad job at transcribing the authentic quote word-for-word. And if it isn't word-for-word, then it's not a direct quote!
- If we can find evidence of somebody else saying it, then it's safe to conclude that somebody just stupidly misattributed it to George Carlin.
- Otherwise, if we still have no evidence for or against the quotation, we should still not accept it as authentic until it's proven otherwise.
Answers to Related Questions
"Hi, I found a quotation that's credited to George Carlin. Maybe he really said it, but I don't know because I haven't heard or read every single thing that he's ever released. Did he really say it?"
Thank you for your concern! See the next page for my detailed list of bogus Carlin quotes. It might be on the list. Or, check the page of authentic quotes here. If you found it on the internet, chances are good that it's in one of these two lists. Otherwise, if you still don't see it listed, please contact me (see the FAQ page for my email address). Tell me the alleged "George Carlin" quote that you found, and where you found it. I'm always looking to keep the site updated with what's out there, so I'm more than happy to help.
"But GoodReads.com [or some other quotations website, or some 'famous quotations' book] says that Carlin said this. So that settles it!
No, it doesn't. GoodReads.com is notorious for having lots of fake quotations. Oh sure, you can find some authentic ones there, but it's still a site where anybody can create an account there, attribute a quote to a celebrity, and nobody will question it. The people who run the site sure don't. The same goes for lots of other websites, and even some of these printed books of quotations from famous people. This brings us back to the importance of "official sources": the albums, the performances for HBO, the books, interviews, and his official site. If you can't trace a "George Carlin" quote back to an official source of his, then you should be skeptical as to its authenticity.
"I found this pic on the Internet with some words next to a photo of George Carlin! So it must be authentic, right?"
No, not necessarily. See the Abraham Lincoln quote further up the page.
"But I found a Twitter/Facebook/blog account named after "George Carlin", and they even use George Carlin's photo. That means it must be authentic, right?
In short, NO! For example I know of at least one Twitter account named "GeorgeCarlin" with literally tens of thousands of followers, and the Tweets posted from there are by far and large NOT words from George Carlin. Anybody can set up a website, Twitter account, email address, or some other account under a celebrity name. This is why celebrities, bands, and so on will have an "official" website, to be the definitive source of information, approved of by the entity in question. So just because something has "George Carlin" in the title doesn't mean that it's official. Note that the official George Carlin site is GeorgeCarlin.com, not GeorgeCarlin.net! Likewise, the one and only an official Twitter account for George Carlin is the one run by his daughter Kelly: @TheGeorgeCarlin. Note the "The"!
"If you say I shouldn't believe these other unofficial sources, then why should I believe YOU when YOU say a Carlin quotation is REAL? Your site is an unofficial site too!"
What makes GeorgeCarlin.net different from most of these other pages is that whenever I give a genuine Carlin quotation here, I also show you the source of that quotation. So you don't have to take my word for it. In fact, don't. When I give a quotation from George Carlin here, I always say where it's from: what album, or what book authored by George Carlin, or which DVD / HBO video. So you can verify the authenticity of the quote by simply buying that album, book, or DVD yourself, and hear or read the words right from the man himself.
"Yeah, but how can we be sure Carlin DIDN'T say a particular quotation?"
The short answer is: technically I can't (at least not with 100% certainty), but I don't have to. The person who has the quote should be the one trying to prove that it IS from Carlin.
You see, when somebody attributes a quotation to a person, then in effect a claim is being made: "Person 'x' said quotation 'y'." When it comes to claims, the burden of proof should be on that person making the claim. Philosophically speaking, I suppose it's possible that Abraham Lincoln put some syllables together and phonetically said the word "internet" and the rest of that 'Lincoln' quote I gave, even years before the word had any meaning. Again, I can't disprove it with 100% certainty. Nobody can. But obviously, that's so far-fetched of a possibility that it's not even worth considering! We can safely assume that Lincoln didn't say anything about "the Internet". Hence why the Lincoln quotation is an intentional joke.
We CAN however employ some good guidelines to help separate the authentic quotes from the bogus quotes. I listed them earlier, but let's look deeper:
- First and foremost, we should apply the guideline that Carlin himself gave us: if you find a quote that's not from one of his albums, HBO specials, or books, then it's probably a fake. During his lifetime, Carlin recorded about 20 albums, about 15 HBO performances, and published 4 books. That's a lot of material! And that's not even counting the numerous radio and television interviews, guest-hosted shows, other television appearances, etc. If there was one thing Carlin was good at, it was getting his own words out there. So when you find a very "quotable" line that's allegedly from Carlin yet doesn't show in any of these sources, there's a better chance that it's simply a bogus quote, rather than a quote that was just overlooked and left out of every single official source.
- Some quotations simply don't sound like anything Carlin would say. Granted Carlin was an extremely funny and witty comedian with a non-conformist bent, but that's no reason to believe that any random witty rant or joke list you find on the internet was written by him. Like all artists, he developed his own style. Even though that style evolved over the years, some things "The Paradox of our Time" simply don't sound like anything he'd say. Yes, it's true that his work was varied enough that what he said in 1972 may not sound like "Carlin" to somebody who's only familiar with his stuff from the 1990s and 2000s, but "Does this really sound like Carlin?" is still a good guideline for spotting fakes.
- Most of these bogus quotes were circulating the internet for a long time (in some cases, years), without any attribution, before they were later credited to Carlin. The "I Am a Bad American" rant is a good example of this. It was only after it had been circulating around the internet for a while, that you started to see it being misattributed to Carlin (or to Ted Nugent, or to some other famous person). If you search the internet for a particular quotation and find references to it from as far back as 1996, but can't find any pages crediting it to Carlin any older than 2006, chances are good that he never said it in the first place.
Regarding the first guideline, I personally own all of Carlin's albums and know them quite well from listening to them over the years. I have all of his HBO specials on DVD, though most of what shows up on the HBO specials also shows up on some album, or book, or both. My point is that I know Carlin's stuff pretty well. Also, in addition to owning his books, I'll use a site like Amazon.com or Google Books to search through them for a particular word or phrase. Granted, this still isn't completely foolproof -- for example, some books have pages that Amazon or Google Books simply don't include, and Carlin interview quotes can be hard to identify and confirm. But when a quote is genuine, these sorts of techniques do find the source way more often than not. So when searching for an alleged quote's source comes up nil, it's still much more likely to be one of the countless bogus quotes, than an obscure genuine quote.
"Well I found this quote on the Internet that says George said it, and you say he didn't. But since Carlin is dead, then there's no way to know, so it's just your word against mine."
Wrong. Again, the burden of proof should be on the person defending the quotation as real. When there's no evidence to support this, and even more evidence to doubt it (see above), then the rational position is to reject the claim that it's authentic.
"If I want to find out whether a quotation is authentic or not, shouldn't I first ask somebody who knew George personally (e.g., his daughter Kelly), to confirm or deny it?"
The short answer is no. I know that intuitively, a famous person's friend or family member seems like a reliable source of authenticity for quotations, but it really isn't. Evidence for things like quotations should be based on things you can empirically verify, not an "authority" source. I even once saw Carlin's daughter Kelly post a popular misquote ("George Washington's brother, Lawrence, was the uncle of our country" -- the actual quotation is from the book Brain Droppings, and is almost identical except that it doesn't include the name 'Lawrence'), as well as confuse other details (e.g., thinking that it was Lois Bromfield doing the voices on the "A Place for My Stuff" album, when in fact it was Denny Dillon).
Now please note that this is not an attack on Kelly, who's a very bright person and doing a great job in keeping her father's legacy going. Being his daughter, she's certainly been a great source for other bits of biographical information. My point is not that Kelly is an unreliable person; it's that human anecdotal evidence is generally not really reliable for certain things. As scientific research has shown, human memory is far from perfect, and it's frighteningly easy for people to change the stories in their head over a long period of time without even realizing it. This is also how urban myths are often fuelled, such as the aging hippie who claims to have seen Alice Cooper defecate on stage with Frank Zappa sometime in the 1970s, which never actually happened.
Much more importantly though, when a quotation you find from George Carlin is authentic, then it's almost always from one of his albums, books, or HBO specials. In a few other cases it's from an interview. Regardless, these are releases that other fans already own or can obtain on their own, so you simply don't need to track down and harass somebody like Kelly Carlin or George's brother Patrick to verify a quotation you read on-line.
This reasoning really should extend to quotations of other famous people. For example, if you want to verify whether a quotation you read on-line is really from Albert Einstein, you don't try to find a living person who knew him personally. What you do is look through the stuff he wrote or recorded: published papers, personal letters, interviews, then maybe turn to biographies, etc.
"[You are] ASSUMING that Carlin's shows never had variations and you can take a SINGLE excerpt as gospel."
A dumbass motherfucker named Garrett actually claimed this. As anybody who has looked around the page can see, Garrett's ridiculous argument holds no merit. I give a number of examples, on the 'real quotes' page for example, of Carlin doing two or more wording variations of the same joke of his. A great example of this is his "A Place For My Stuff" routine, which he had told on his album of the same title, on one of his HBO specials, on the charity show Comic Relief, and in his book Brain Droppings, each with slightly different variations.
So why did this waste of a zygote named Garrett make such a claim in the first place? It's because he saw something like the following somewhere on the bogus quotes page:
- I find an unsourced "George Carlin" quotation from the Internet. This is how all of the 'bogus quote' page investigations begin.
- I point out that this quotation, worded the way that it is, doesn't show up in any of Carlin's official releases.
- I point out that it does however look very similar to this other quote of Carlin's which can be sourced. Namely to a video-recorded, very popular, well-documented, HBO special of his. It's one which millions have seen, and which you can still find on DVD or even CD. The point being, most people who've heard any Carlin with their own ears have heard it from HBO or an album, not something like a live show.
- So here's the big question: is the quote I found on the Internet (#1) authentic? Did Carlin really say it, word for word? Well it seems that there are two possibilities:
- A) Carlin really did say that quote that was found on the Internet (#1) word-for-word. Namely, he performed the same routine as #3 on a different night, and just altered the wording himself. Again, we know that he's done this sort of thing before. However...
- It's also possible that B) somebody simply mis-transcribed what he/she heard on HBO (#3). They saw the HBO performance, laughed, tried to transcribe the routine the next day from memory, but messed up on the wording. Then they put it on the Internet without bothering to check it. People do this all the time with quotations. See the "memorable quotes" of new movies on IMDB.com for some good examples. Hell, I've had sloppy journalists do it to me when I've been interviewed and they ended up misquoting me.
- Given ALL these observations, I conclude that "B" is more likely of an explanation than "A".
Note that even if "A" was the truth, you'd still need evidence that he really said it, and it would beg the question of why people trying to quote the routine wouldn't just use the immensely more popular variation that people know, from HBO.
Now having read all of that, can you logically jump to the conclusion of "This website is saying that 'A' is false, and is assuming that variations on Carlin's routines never existed"? No. Well, not unless you're a complete fucking idiot with no grasp of basic logic, like Garrett is. Even if you had evidence for 'A' (i.e., you can point to an actual recording or authentic writing where Carlin used the variation you found on the internet), in which case my educated guess of 'B' would be proven wrong, it STILL wouldn't mean "This website assumes that Carlin never varied the wording of his specific routines". I pointed this out to shit-for-brains Garrett, asking him to acknowledge that his accusation was therefore wrong, but he didn't get it. So I explained it to him again, and he still didn't get it. Go figure. Oh, and if that wasn't stupid enough, the clip he tried to give me to prove "A" (the authenticity of Internet quote #1), turned out to be a video clip of #3. What a maroon.
"Have YOU ever fallen for a bogus Carlin quote before?"
Certainly! For example, back around the late 1990s, a friend forwarded me the joke about why life should go backwards, which was attributed (albeit falsely) to George Carlin. I knew the joke wasn't from any of his albums or books, but since it did sound like his style of humor, I ignorantly assumed it was his. Only later did I learn from his official website that he didn't write the piece. Snopes.com had a page that further reinforced that fact, explaining that it's actually by Sean Morey. But it was back in the late 90s that I also started to notice more random essays and joke lists in my inbox that I had seen before, only this time they were now being attributed to "George Carlin". That's when I realized that something strange was going on.
I learned from that mistake, though. I realized I was wrong, took care not to share the fake quote with other people, and pointed out that it was wrong whenever I saw other people sharing it. What I did NOT do, was try and make silly excuses for being wrong, and try to rationalize it away with fallacies. Speaking of which...
"Who cares who said what? What does it matter?"
As a long-time, dedicated fan of George Carlin, I most certainly care! And as already mentioned, George cared too. Even when it comes to other people's quotations, I still care a bit about authenticity, and you should too. If I really like a quotation, then I'd hate to see the credit being taken away from the person who said it, only to be given to somebody else who doesn't deserve it. It's also not fair to misrepresent people by falsely putting words in their mouth, especially if the quotation sucks.
Besides, how would you like it if somebody took some lyrics from your favorite rock band, and credited them to somebody else? Would you want to see lyrics from a Beatles song being attributed to Justin Bieber? How about Justin Bieber lyrics attributed to Bob Dylan? I see no reason why the lyrics of music artists should get special authenticity treatment over the writings of a comedian.
"Well even if Carlin didn't say this quote, I still really like the message. So I'm still going to keep it up on my website, where it's still attributed to George Carlin."
Then you're an asshole. See the previous answer. If you really like a particular quotation, then you should give credit to the person who said it. He or she deserves the credit. At the same time, you should certainly NOT give credit to somebody who completely disagreed with the sentiment of the quotation.
"But I'm paying homage to Carlin by sharing this (misattributed) quote on the internet! Besides, George would really agree with this quotation."
Actually, I can't think of anything more philosophically ANTI Carlin than 1) spending your day sharing empty "feel-good" quotations on the internet, 2) attributing such things to George Carlin without care (especially when he said he doesn't like people doing that), and 3) assuming the authenticity of what you read without question.
"No, you're wrong! Carlin really said this quotation! I don't know how, but I just know it!"
Please prove me wrong, then. I'm serious. If there's a quotation listed on the next page which Carlin really did say, and that in my research of it I missed where he really said it, then tell me. I would sincerely want to know that I'm wrong about it, so that I can make the correction. My goal isn't to prove myself right for the sake of being the one who's right; my goal is to have a site that gets the facts straight.
Of course, if you want to prove that Carlin really did say a certain quotation, then you have to have some actual evidence. The source has to be objective and reliable, and you have to be specific. For example: a track from an actual George Carlin album, one of his HBO specials, a bootleg recording that you can send me, a page number you can give me to one of his books, or a George Carlin interview that you can cite. Some examples of sources that are NOT reliable are: compilation books of random funny celebrity quotations (especially if the book has no real appendix of sources), some picture your friend posted on Facebook (again, you might as well show me a picture of the Lincoln internet quote), or the mere say-so of somebody. This last one even applies to people that knew George Carlin personally; the imperfections of human memory simply make personal anecdotes highly questionable for citations. Just look at urban legends, or the "eye witnesses testimony" stories that religious people claim.
"Why did you write so much on this topic? I mean, isn't it just pretty basic, rational logic: reject claims unless there's evidence?"
Yeah, but you'd be surprised how many people don't get it, and try to defend their use of a bogus Carlin quote after I point out that it's a fake.
"Grammar question: When you quote somebody, are those words called a 'quote' or 'quotation'?"
I think the proper English word is "quotation". But according to the dictionary, the word "quote" when used as a noun can also be used to mean "quotation". So it looks like both words can be used. I am admittedly a bit of a Grammar Nazi, but for fellow Grammar Nazis who think I should strictly be calling quotations "quotations" and never "quotes", well, you'll have to take that up with Webster's dictionary.
Click here for Part 2, the actual list of bogus quotes!