By Harry McCracken | Monday, November 9, 2009 at 11:53 pm
Quote type: Apparently apocryphal boneheaded miscalculation.
Circumstances of origin: Very sketchy, but he’s most often said to have said it in 1943. But there’s no real evidence he ever said any such thing: The conventional wisdom is that the “quote” mangles remarks Watson made at IBM’s annual meeting a decade later, when he said that the company expected to sell eight examples of one specific computer on one particular sales trip. Then again, maybe Watson is being blamed for something vaguely similar said by a British mathematician around 1951. In any event, the data-processing magnate passed away in 1956, after IBM had sold a lot more than five computers but before he could defend himself.
Why it’s notable: People love to chortle at examples of alleged professionals who don’t know what the heck they’re talking about–so much so that it doesn’t seem to matter much whether the quotes are legit or not. (The Watson one was popularized by The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation, an entire book of such stuff.)
Quote type: momentous moment.
Circumstances of origin: During a scientific experiment at his laboratory in Boston on March 10th, 1876. Bell, of course, called out to his assistant Thomas Watson–no relation to the one we just discussed–and thereby discovered that his telephone was working.
Why it’s notable: It’s one of the greatest moments in gizmo history. (Side note: Nobody remembers precisely what the first e-mail said, but here’s the first tweet.)
Quote type: Insightful epigram
Circumstances of origin: Kay said it at a 1971 meeting at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where much of the future of technology was invented in the 1970s–including the graphical interface, Ethernet, and the laser printer.
Why it’s notable: It’s true, ennobling, and catchy, and Kay–whose Dynabook portable computer concept has been inspiring builders of mobile devices for forty years–has lived the dream. Bonus points: A slight variation on the quote is frequently misattributed to Abraham Lincoln. Wwhich is not something you can say about “Egg freckles?” or “Dude, you’re getting a Dell!”
Quote type: Political blather.
Circumstances of origin: During comments on June 28th, 2006 concerning net neutrality.
Why it’s notable: It’s possible that former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) will be best remembered for his forty years in the Senate and the ethical breaches he was convicted of (in a trial that was voided after he lost his 2008 bid for reelection). But it’s at least as likely that he’ll earn his place in history as the guy who said this stuff:
Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet? I just the other day got…an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday. I got it yesterday Tuesday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially.
…They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it’s going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.
Quote type: Political blather.
Circumstances of origin: During a TV interview with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo on October 22nd, 2006.
Why it’s notable: The leader of the free world was famously tongue-tied–and hey, he told Bartiromo he used “the Google” only “occasionally.” Whether he misspoke or didn’t know what the world’s favorite search engine was called, his fumble has been intentionally repeated countless times by others in the three years since he made it.
*This number probably overstates this quote’s Googleosity–sadly, the Google makes it hard to form a query that accurately captures references to Bush’s gaffe.