Famous Misquotations: Blood, Sweat, and Tears

I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat, and tears.

This is a famous misquotation of a phrase used in Winston Churchill’s first speech as Prime Minister of Britain to the House of Commons shortly after World War II began. In his speech, delivered on May 13, 1940, Churchill actually used the phrase: “I have nothing to offer but blood and toil, tears and sweat.” Over time, the original phrase was misquoted as “I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat, and tears” — the word “toil” was dropped and the words “sweat” and “tears” were transposed.

Soon after the speech, it was pointed out to Churchill that Henry James, who published The Bostonians in 1885, used a similar phrase in his book: “In the last resort the whole burden of the human lot came upon them; it pressed upon them far more than on the others, the intolerable load of fate. It was they who sat cramped and chained to receive it; it was they who had done all the waiting and taken all the wounds. The sacrifices, the blood, the tears, the terrors were theirs.” Churchill’s response was that he had never read the book. Although the constructions are similar, Churchill’s phrase has better consonance and whether misquoted or not has survived the test of time.

For further reading: They Never Said It: A Book of Fake, Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions by Paul Boller, Jr. and John George, Oxford University Press (1989); The Bostonians by Henry James, Everyman Library (1992).

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