Mark Twain Didn’t Say That Thing About Obituaries

And Martin Luther King never said the quote that’s being attributed to him, either

Mark Twain
ilbusca / Getty / The Atlantic
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"I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure." That quote, attributed to Mark Twain, popped up in a lot of places yesterday, as some people found themselves struggling with their feelings after the death of Osama bin Laden. If you're against killing on principle, but still no great fan of bin Laden, the Twain quote might have seemed perfectly suited to the occasion.

Just one problem: Twain never said it. In fact, no one ever said it in precisely that form. Matt Blum at Wired has the fact-check: the quotation actually comes from Clarence Darrow, the lawyer of Scopes Trial fame. Here's a fuller version of the quote, which appears in Darrow's 1932 work The Story of My Life:

All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike some one they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.

Meanwhile, Megan McArdle at The Atlantic cast a skeptical eye on yesterday's other big anti-jubilation quote. This one--"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy"--has been attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr., but as far as McArdle can tell, King never said it, or said anything like it. Her conclusion? "Someone made up a quote, attributed it to MLK Jr, and disseminated it widely, all within 24 hours ... Perhaps they only wanted to say this thing, and knew that no one would pay attention unless it came from someone else."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.