How to Recognize a Zombie

ZombieQuoteKingGeorge4IOTom Woods writes about a documentary he tried to watch, but had to turn off after it opened with a fake quote (what we here at Invisible Order call a zombie quote) from Benjamin Franklin and a fake quote from Rothschild.

Here’s the supposed Franklin line:

The refusal of King George the Third to allow the colonies to operate an honest money system which freed the ordinary man from the clutches of the money manipulators was probably the prime cause of the revolution.

It sounds great! The quote says exactly what you want it to say (if you’re the conspiracy theorist making a documentary entitled All Wars Are Bankers’ Wars) and it even uses modern phrasing: “An honest money system,” and “money manipulators.”

But it’s not a real quote. It is lifeless, a dead abomination mindlessly stumbling across the Web. It is a zombie quote. Franklin never said this, and the Currency Act was not actually a big motivator for the American Revolution.

Now, if you’re a brilliant constitutional historian like Tom Woods, you can probably recognize fake quotes from Founding Fathers a mile off. But what if you’re just an ordinary writer, or what if you’re an editor or a publisher overseeing dozens of writers on dozens of different topics? How can you tell the zombie quotes from the real things?

Here are three quick tips:

  1. Listen to it. If it’s an actual old quote (100 years or more) it won’t sound modern, and it won’t be full of the latest catchphrases. It will sound a little stiff and unfamiliar, because the language changed over the last few centuries. A lot of zombie quotes come about through a kind of necromantic ventriloquism, with modern writers fervently wishing that old, respected dead guys would say exactly the right thing. And surprise surprise, the quote comes out sounding modern.
  2. Google it. If the first page of hits is all memes and Tweets, it’s probably a zombie. (More on this trick here.)
  3. Check it. Take a look at our growing list of zombie quotes. We keep track of all the most common menacing undead there, and you can add to the list too.

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