everything else is either public relations or a misattributed quote

I saw this:

and thought: that doesn't sound like Orwell.

I have read almost everything Orwell ever published, and will eventually read everything, including all the published letters. While no one could remember every line from every essay, this just doesn't sound like our man Eric Blair to me. Orwell wasn't given to aphorisms or one-liners. It doesn't fit in the theme of any book or essay. The essay that seems most relevant, "Politics and the English Language," does not contain this line. I was skeptical.

I did several internet searches, hoping to find a source that attributed the quote to a specific book or essay. Nothing. The quote, attributed to Orwell, is all over the internet, but not one site ever indicates where it comes from. That seemed very significant. On this Wikiquote page, other people are asking the same question, and also not finding any attribution to specific work.

I posted about it on Facebook, hoping someone might have an idea on how to research it. One friend had the excellent idea of asking an Orwell expert.

I emailed six people who have either written books about Orwell, curated exhibits about him, or run websites relating to his work. Two authors responded and told me that in their research, they never came upon the quote, anywhere. That's likely the closest we can ever come to ruling out that Orwell wrote that line.

Finally, La Zerbisias, as I like to call her, turned me on to the fascinating rabbit-hole Quote Investigator. Check out QI's extensive research on the "everything else is public relations" line. Similar quotes have been attributed to: George Orwell, Alfred Harmsworth, William Randolph Hearst, Brian R. Roberts, Malcolm Muggeridge, Katharine Graham, Lord Rothermere, and Lord Northcliffe. Their conclusion: anonymous.

It's tempting to blame the internet age for all this misattribution, but that's just shooting the messenger. As QI clearly shows, false attributions were common long before the digital age. The internet just spreads them faster.

If you enjoy fake-quotation research, you might like to read (or re-read) this wmtc post about some famous lines Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson never said: you can look it up. If nothing else, scroll down to enjoy the pics and the comments.

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