Tracking down everything ever said by Albert Einstein can be difficult. Tracking down everything ever said by Albert Einstein can be difficult. Tracking down everything ever said by Albert Einstein can be difficult. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Did Albert Einstein really say that?

Everyone from Kourtney Kardashian to Donald Trump has done it. A world-renowned Einstein expert explains why so many misquote the genius.

Albert Einstein was a wise man, even outside the science laboratory. He has inspired painters, young students and comic book creators. Even budding romantics take advice from him.

So it should come as no surprise, then, that so many people today quote Einstein. Or, to be more precise, misquote Einstein.

"I believe they quote Einstein because of his iconic image as a genius," Alice Calaprice, an Einstein expert, tells From The Grapevine. "Who would know better and be a better authority than the alleged smartest person in the world?"

If you're looking to verify a quote from Einstein, you could ask the staff at the Einstein Archives, which are located on the campus of Hebrew University in Israel. There are also digital archives you can sift through.

The official Albert Einstein Twitter account has spawned a cottage industry correcting celebrities who misquote Einstein:

Hundreds of misattributed Einstein quotes can be found on the Internet and on desk calendars. "And with social media," adds Calaprice, "these quotations are spreading around the world more quickly than in Einstein’s day."

She should know. After all, as the author of "The Ultimate Quotable Einstein," Calaprice is the world's foremost expert on Einstein quotations. Her book contains more than 1,600 quotes attributed to the beloved scientist – as well as an entire chapter of quotes that people think Einstein said, but didn't.

The most famous one is: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Archivist Barbara Wolff at the Einstein Archives in Jerusalem tracked down that quote, often attributed to Einstein, to the author Rita Mae Brown in her book "Sudden Death" in 1983.

Another oft-misquoted Einstein quote is: "The wireless telegraph is not difficult to understand. The ordinary telegraph is like a very long cat. You pull the tail in New York, and it meows in Los Angeles. The wireless is the same, only without the cat." But, alas, the physicist likely never uttered those words. Wolff believes this is not from Einstein, but actually an old Vaudeville joke.

It seems even Einstein himself didn't like people spreading false information about him. "There have already been published by the bucketsful such brazen lies and utter fictions about me that I would long since have gone to my grave if I had allowed myself to pay attention to them," Einstein told the writer Max Brod in 1949.

"Because one can’t prove a negative," Calaprice explains, "it’s easy for someone to claim that Einstein said this or that and conveniently omit any documentation to substantiate the claim." Not to mention Einstein mostly spoke in German.

Adds Calaprice: "It’s not a perfect science!"


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