August 29, 2008

These quotes make for good storytelling but popular myth has falsely attributed them to Winston Churchill

Conservative by the Time You’re 35

‘If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart.  If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.’

There is no record of anyone hearing Churchill say this. Paul Addison of Edinburgh University made this comment: ‘Surely Churchill can’t have used the words attributed to him. He’d been a Conservative at 15 and a Liberal at 35!  And would he have talked so disrespectfully of Clemmie, who is generally thought to have been a lifelong Liberal?’


“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

This quote is very often attributed to Churchill but appears nowhere in the Churchill canon.

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Cross of Lorraine

“The hardest cross I have to bear is the Cross of Lorraine.”

This remark about the intractable Charles de Gaulle was actually made by General Spears, Churchill’s envoy to France.

Going Through Hell

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

We haven’t seen any correct attribution of this quote that appears frequently on the Internet and printed on motivation posters. It’s not a phrase that is contained anywhere in the canon of Winston Churchill’s written or spoken words.

If You Want Nothing Done

“If you wanted nothing done, Arthur Balfour was the best man for the task. There was no one equal to him.”

Supposedly WSC made this wry remark when Lloyd George said he heard that Arthur Balfour was “dominating the League of Nations”. The quote has been ascribed to Lord Riddell’s War Diary, but no such words appear there.


“With integrity, nothing else counts. Without integrity, nothing else counts.”

This “integrity” quote has been making its way around the Internet for many years. A search of the digital archive by Finest Hour of Winston Churchill’s 15 million published words, plus 35 million words about him by colleagues, biographers and historians, produced no results for this phrase. This includes all of Churchill’s published books, articles, speeches and letters.


‘Jaw, jaw and war, war Jaw, jaw is better than war, war.’ 1954, Washington. (Finest Hour 122, 15.)

Winston Churchill’s official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert, speaking of this quote, noted that Churchill actually said, ‘Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war.’ Four years later, during a visit to Australia, Harold Macmillan said the words usually—and wrongly—attributed to Churchill: “Jaw, jaw is better than war, war.” Credit: Harold Macmillan.


“You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.”

This one comes up on many internet quote sites and was even reiterated in a 2005 TV ad by Lockheed Martin. It’s a nice quote but definitely not Winston Churchill.

Looking Backward

“The further backward you look, the further forward you can see.” Also commonly stated as, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.”

Each of these quotes is commonly attributed to Churchill—even by HM The Queen in her 1999 Christmas Message to the British Commonwealth. What Churchill actually said was, “The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.”

Never Quit

‘Never quit Never, never, never quit!’ [Also sometimes quoted as ‘Never, never, never give up!’

Both are misquotations of what Churchill actually said, which was, ‘Never give in—never, never, never, never, except to convictions of honour and good sense.’

Rum, Sodomy and the Lash

“The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash.”

Churchill’s assistant, Anthony Montague-Browne said, that although Churchill had not uttered these words, he wished he had.

Simple Tastes

‘I am a man of simple tastes—I am quite easily satisfied with the best of everything.’ 1930s, Passim.

According to Churchill’s private secretary Sir John Colville, it was Churchill’s close friend F.E. Smith, Lord Birkenhead, who originated the remark, ‘Mr Churchill is easily satisfied with the best’ (without ‘man of simple tastes’ or ‘of everything’). Churchill with his great memory could quite easily have repeated and embroidered on Birkenhead’s remark when he visited the Plaza Hotel in New York, shortly after Birkenhead’s death, in 1931, as is sometimes recorded. Credit: F.E. Smith.


‘However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.’

No attribution.

Success is Not Final

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” And also, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

We can find no attribution for either one of these and you will find that they are broadly attributed to Winston Churchill. They are found nowhere in his canon, however. An almost equal number of sources found online credit these sayings to Abraham Lincoln—but we have found none that provides any attribution in the Lincoln Archives.

You Make a Living By What You Get

“You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.”

While often attributed to Churchill, a search of over 2.5 million words by and about Churchill in The Churchill Centre’s research database fails to show that Churchill ever spoke or wrote those words.  Equally encouraging, perhaps, are words he DID utter in Dundee, Scotland, on 10 October 1908:

“What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?  How else can we put ourselves in harmonious relation with the great verities and consolations of the infinite and the eternal?  And I avow my faith that we are marching towards better days.  Humanity will not be cast down.  We are going on swinging bravely forward along the grand high road and already behind the distant mountains is the promise of the sun.”

War and Shame

“The gov­ern­ment had to choose between war and shame. They chose shame. They will get war too.”

William Manchester’s The Last Lion, vol. 2, quotes this remark as written from Churchill to Lord Moyne on page 334. It appears to be not so.

It is often believed that Churchill addressed a sim­i­lar remark to Neville Cham­ber­lain directly after Munich, however, “in almost any gath­er­ing [after Munich] it would have been indis­creet to remark…” according to Manchester.

There are two likely quo­ta­tions from where this was derived. The first was Churchill in a let­ter to Lloyd George on 13 August 1938, just before the Munich Con­fer­ence:

I think we shall have to choose in the next few weeks between war and shame, and I have very lit­tle doubt what the deci­sion will be.

Ref­er­ence is Churchill by Him­self, page 256, quot­ing Mar­tin Gilbert, ed., Win­ston S. Churchill, Com­pan­ion Vol­ume V Part 3, The Com­ing of War 1936-1939 (Lon­don: Heine­mann 1982), page 1117.

A month later, Churchill wrote to his friend Lord Moyne, explain­ing why a pro­posed visit to Moyne in Antigua might be prob­lem­atic. From Churchill by Him­self, page 257, Gilbert page 1155.

What is Relevant is Obviously Not True

“All this contains much that is obviously true, and much that is relevant; unfortunately, what is obviously true is not relevant, and what is relevant is not obviously true.”

This is not by Churchill, but Churchill quoting his colleague Arthur J. Balfour (Prime Minister, July 1902 to December 1905) in his book Great Contemporaries (London & New York, 1937, last reprinted 1990). The citation is on page 250 of the first edition, in the chapter entitled “Arthur James Balfour”: “…’there were some things that were true, and some things that were trite; but what was true was trite, and what was not trite was not true’…”

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