a fake quotation misattributed

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 2 16:01:44 UTC 2010

On Tue, Nov 2, 2010 at 9:52 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com> wrote:
> Paul Fussell's  _The Great War and Modern Memory_ explains that the once
> celebrated quotation, attributed to Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1914, that the
> British had a "contemptible little army" that should be exterminated
> immediately, was a forgery. Fussell confidently explains that  "It is now
> known that the phrase emanated...from the closets of British
> propagandists....The phrase was actually devised at the War Office by Sir
> Frederick Maurice and _fathered upon_ the Kaiser" ( 16).

"Fathered [the phrase] upon the Kaiser"?!

Well, okay. I guess that I can get that, if I give it a bit of thought.

> Fussell disdains to provide a source for this information, which is widely
> accepted.
> This is about one-third correct. The falsity of the quotation was
> publicized most influentially by Arthur Ponsonby in the well-known
> _Falsehood in War-Time_ (1928), pp. 84-87. Â As Ponsonby explains, however,
> he did not nail the forgery. After earlier investigations had turned up no
> copy of the supposed order in German Army archives, Ponsonby informs us
> that:
> "General Sir F. Maurice had the German newspaper files searched for the
> alleged speech or order of the Kaiser, but without success. In an article
> exposing the fabrication (_Daily News_, November 6, 1925), he remarks that
> G.H.Q. hit on the idea of using routine orders to issue statements which it
> was believed would encourage and _inspirit_ our men. Â 'Most of these took the
> form of casting ridicule on the German Army....These efforts were seen to be
> absurd by the men in the trenches, and were soon dropped.'"

"Inspirit"? That has a nice ring to it. Too bad that it didn't catch
on. I like it better than _inspire_." OTOH, if the latter were the
"new" (to me) term and _inspirit_ the old, worn-out one, I'd probably
feel the opposite.

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"––a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
–Mark Twain

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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