Things Ernest Hemingway didn’t say

Ernest Hemingway on safari, Kenya, 1954. (Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

One of the beauties of our age of communication is the ability of anyone to publish their thoughts to the world and the lightning speed at which those thoughts can be communicated. Of course, that also means that any old dolt can write some drivel, sign someone else’s name to it or call it a “true story” and few question it. Errors are unstopable.

I’ve made it a personal hobby of mine to debunk “true stories” passed around on the web. Yeah, friends on Facebook just love me. This week, however, my attention was nabbed not by another sappy tale that never happened, but by a misattribution I’ve seen one time too many.

Ernest Hemingway did not write this:

“Before you speak, listen.

Before you write, think.

Before you spend, earn.

Before you invest, investigate.

Before you criticize, wait.

Before you pray, forgive.

Before you quit, try.

Before you retire, save.

Before you die, give.”

It caught my attention immediately because … well … this does not sound anything like Hemingway. A little digging revealed they are instead the words of William Arthur Ward, an often-quoted writer of inspirational maxims and author of “Fountains of Faith.”

Aside from seeing it on Facebook a Google search pulled up dozens of instances of this being attributed to Hemingway. Now here’s something Hemingway did write:

“What is the sense of ruining my head and erasing my memory, which is my capital, and putting me out of business? It was a brilliant cure but we lost the patient.”


  • Susie

    Well, thanks for this. I didn’t think it sounded anything like him either – sheesh.

  • Duncan Mitchel

    Good work.  But you mean “lightning,” not “lightening.”

  • Jack Kerouac

    You are stupid. This comes from one of his short stories.

    • Noah R. Bombard

      Thanks for that eloquent thought, Jack. Which short story are you referring to?

      • Richard Harland Smith

        Jack’s drunk again!

  • Don

    Thank you for this. Annoying when people post up just any words in front of someone’s picture as a direct quote. I see you posted this up in 2011, and here in 2015 it’s still working its way around the webisphere. Thought I’d share Abraham Lincoln’s thoughts on it.

    • Noah R. Bombard

      Thanks. Yeah, I need to dig into some more, although I don’t see as many misquotes as I was seeing a couple of years ago.