Isn't this a beautiful passage? It was written by Louise Erdrich.
Yes, she really wrote this. Not Abraham Lincoln, Maya Angelou, Robin Williams or your second cousin who just found you on Facebook.
You know what I'm talking about. The only thing worse than no attribution is misatrribution.
That bird don't sing
"A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song."
Maya Angelou did not say or write these words and yet the postage stamp released April 2015 in tribute to the late poet, bears these words, her name, and face.
After the stamps were printed, distributed, and launched in a celebration featuring First Lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey, the truth was out: The line was penned by Joan Walsh Anglund, in A Cup of Sun, a poetry collection published in 1967.
More than 80 million stamps were produced, and the United States Postal Service has no plans to retract them, according to a story by Ian Crouch in the New Yorker.
"It seemed to many that the folks at the Postal Service had simply believed too readily what they read on the Internet," he writes. "They had gone looking for a suitable quotation, and finding this one attributed to Angelou in all kinds of places online — quotation-aggregation sites, Pinterest boards, Facebook pages, Etsy ink prints — they had slapped it onto a postage stamp, forever."
Somebody said something but was it
that someone or another someone?
We're lazy, and confused. Our enthusiasm for inspiring words is so vigorous that we don't care, or question, the validity of what we read. We just embrace, then share, then perpetuate the incorrection.
In my writer-for-hire world, I've been researching inspirational quotes about aging.
[Sidenote: This area is ripe for reformation; Over many hours, I found just a handful of quotes that weren't saccharine, sentimental or insulting.]
One I liked: "It's not the years in your life but the life in your years."
Who said it? This pithy aphorism blazes across the internet landscape — in jpegs and flowered cheer — and is usually attributed to Abraham Lincoln. But, wait, really? He doesn't strike me as a boosterish sort of speaker.
A bit more digging revealed other sources: Adlai Stevenson, Edward J. Stieglitz, and that old standby, Anonymous.
And then, praise the heavens, I found the Quote Investigator.
A solo fact-finder, Garson O’Toole has a doctorate from Yale University and he, "diligently seeks the truth about quotations."
Why so bothered?
Because words matter. And writers work to choose their words. And it's right, good and kind to give credit where credit is due.
Can I get an Amen? (And all the writers said uh-huh!)
Yes, it's okay to borrow. Austin Kleon, who re-energized the erasure poem, wrote Steal Like An Artist, the book on creative borrowing. And I do, for writing prompts and crafting collage or cento poems. But I do not lift whole lines or passages as my own. I rework and reword. And I give a nod, a hat-tip, an attribution.
Here's a tip
Before you share that next inspiring bit of quote-gold, do this:
Read, review, consider, confirm, and give correct credit.
Then share with abandon. Fuel the blaze of authenticity.
It's not the years in your life but the life in your years.
— Edward J. Stieglitz