Ben Yagoda reviews Garson O’Toole’s new book, Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations, which sounds like a lot of fun; I’ll quote the ending, which I especially enjoyed:
And so it goes with that wonderful tale about Hemingway being challenged to write a short story in six words, and coming up with, “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” O’Toole traces more than a dozen iterations and variations going back to 1906, including an item in a 1921 newspaper column attributed to a reader named Jerry:
There was an ad in the Brooklyn ‘Home Talk’ which read, ‘Baby carriage for sale, never used.’ Wouldn’t that make a wonderful plot for the movies?
The above item, which O’Toole harvested from NewspaperArchive, is a good example of his research chops in action. It wouldn’t pop up in a search for the supposed Hemingway quote (in quotation marks or not) because it refers to a carriage, not shoes, that was never used, not worn. I’m still not exactly sure how he got it.
The Hemingway connection, he goes on to explain, stems from a play produced in 1989 where “Hemingway,” the character, used the baby shoes line. There is no evidence that the real Hemingway ever did.
There is one darling O’Toole doesn’t murder. It’s perhaps my favorite quote of all time: “I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” O’Toole finds that it has been misattributed to John Locke, Benjamin Franklin, and Woodrow Wilson, but confirms that it was written in 1657 by Blaise Pascal. If he hadn’t, I might just have had to murder him.
I’m not surprised the “quote” is not actually from Hemingway; I am surprised, and pleased, to learn the misattribution only dates to 1989! How quickly we adopt an attractive error…