Culture Magazine

From Parts Unknown

Séamas O’Reilly journeys through the great orators in search of the unexpected origins of some famous quotes.

‘Life can be a challenge. Life can seem impossible, it’s never easy when there’s so much on the line. But you and I can make a difference. There’s a mission just for you and me. Just look inside and you will find just what you can do.’

When US presidential hopeful Herman Cain spoke these words on the 2016 campaign trail, he was quoting (knowingly or not) a verse from The Power of One, a single released in support of 1999’s Pokémon: The Movie 2000.

‘And Alexander wept, seeing as he had no more worlds to conquer.’

This famous line of Die Hard’s dastardly Hans Gruber is often presumed to have been an extant line from classical history, purloined to showcase the learned credentials of Alan Rickman’s suave antagonist. In fact, it has no close equivalent in recorded histories and was written specifically by screenwriter Steven E. de Souza to attain this effect.

Do you think God stays in heaven because he fears what he has created, here on earth?’

A similarly bewitching quote, uttered in hushed tones by Steve Buscemi, all but insisting moviegoers presume it to be a lofty maxim misapplied to surreal ends. But it is not, having been written specifically
for the film in which it appears, that being Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams.

‘One cannot permit unique opportunities to slip by for the sake of trifles.’

These words were included in a motivational email dispatched to students and staff of Exeter University in 2018, causing the institution to issue an apology when they were reminded they were written by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

‘I will face God and march backwards into hell.’

A stirring line often riffed on in online communities, its timeless quality obscuring the fact that it was conjured for a tweet by the immortal Dril. The full tweet, published on May 12, 2022, read: ‘If the zoo bans me from hollering at the animals I will face God and walk backwards into hell’, albeit rendered in all caps.

‘Do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man.’

This stirring axiom of resistance made sense within the Twitter bio of NFL quarterback and racial justice advocate Colin Kaepernick, where it resided for several years. It is, however, mildly unexpected that the quote belongs to Iain Duncan Smith. (Perhaps unfamiliar with the former Conservative leader and still-serving MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, Kaepernick attributed it to ‘Iain Smith’).

Bucket list.

A slightly more nebulous entry, but arguably the most fascinating in this catalogue. This term for
‘an itinerary of things you want to do before you die’ is, as of 2022, basically common speech, understood by almost anyone who hears it. Which makes it all the stranger that it originated from the 2007 film The Bucket List starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson as two terminally ill pensioners who set out to live their last months to the limit. As such, it handily supplants even Sliding Doors in the ‘household phrase derived from the title of a largely forgotten film’ stakes.

‘Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat, his lungs breathe their final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others, and makes them bleed deeper, than something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalised by the storytellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honour him and make the running the man did live forever.’

If this sounds like the kind of quote you could imagine being attributed to Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein or Abraham Lincoln, then you’re right, as it has been attributed to all of them at one time or another. Its actual source is Golden Era WWF pugilist, the Ultimate Warrior, the man famed for hailing, like so many of these quotes, ‘from parts unknown’.

You've reached the end. Boo!

Don't panic. You can get full digital access for as little as £0.50 per month.

Get Offer

Register for free to continue reading.

Or get full access for as little as 50p.

Register Free Subscribe

Already a member? Sign In.