Monthly Archives: April 2011

The usage and abusage of internet quotes

While watching Twitter like a crack addicted monkey for new reviews of The Pale King I noticed an often retweeted aphorism:

“Health is the greatest of all possessions; a pale cobbler is better than a sick king.”

Of course, pale doesn’t make any sense there, it’s a hale cobbler. “Pale cobbler” gets about 2,300 hits on Google, replace with hale, and you get three. On the other hand, the original quote is actually this:

“Health is the greatest of all possessions, and it is a maxim with me that a hale cobbler is a better man than a sick king”

Which gets you a healthy 11,220 hits on Google, and is attributed to 18th century Irish playwright Isaac Bickerstaffe. A further goog of Isaac Bickerstaff “pale cobbler” gets you only 173 people correctly attributing the incorrect quote.

The things I keep wondering about those first 2,000, and even more the 173 more learned attributers, is are they wondering what the heck the author meant by pale cobbler? And at what point on its putative growth curve will it pass the real quote, and become another “I could care less” aphoristic mind fuck?

This is the folk version of things like the medireview incident in the early 21st century, wherein a yahoo mail filter invented a new branch of historical academia that took a while to get caught and corrected. I suppose this has always happened, but in the age of the net it can happen and get corrected faster. I still wonder when enough of these, obviously enough laid along the paths of the net will get people to develop a healthy suspicion about the pale cobblers of the medireview when they come across them.