A Famous Mark Twain Quote – Which Is In Fact A Misquote

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Here’s a famous quote:

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

It’s often attributed to a famous person, Mark Twain. So if that were true then this is in no way a folklore. But thankfully for me and for the collection it’s false. As far as we know, Mark Twain has never written anything like this quote. The closest he has come to it was in a letter he wrote to a friend in 1871: “you’ll have to excuse my lengthiness – the reason I dread writing letters is because I am so apt to get a slinging wisdom & forget to let up. Thus much precious time is lost.

So the quote is in fact a proverb based on folk legend.

There are in fact many quotes that match more closely the quote above. But of course none of them is from Mark Twain. Pascal in 1657 has apparently written that “I have made this longer than usual because I have not time to make it shorter.” John Locke too – “I am now too lazy, or too busy to make it shorter.” Other names that can be tied to it include Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau, Cicero, Woodrow Wilson…


The internet. If we were to ever confront the informant on how it came across this piece, it might respond that it’s simply because it knows almost everything.


It fascinates me how much supposedly authored literature is in fact folklore. But it is perhaps not surprising at all, since we seem to be afraid of our own wisdom and cannot put stock into wisdom if an authority figure were not attached to it.