This completely blows my mind. Back in 2006 I was writing a post on O’Reilly Radar about inspiring engineering teams, and I remembered having heard a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry that summed up the idea I wanted to discuss:
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.
I searched for the quote and found it on Wikiquote under the “Attributed” section, so I put it at the top of the post, noting that it was attributed (phew, let’s hear it for being pedantic).
Today I was thinking of using that quote again, and went to look it up again. Now Wikiquote shows it as “Unsourced,” with a note that says it is misattributed. Huh. So I start to dig in. Here’s what happened:
- I wrote my original post.
- My friend Raffi Krikorian and I talked about the post and the quote several times.
- Four years later, he wrote his own post about it.
- Aaron Straup Cope saved Raffi’s post on Pinboard.
- Karl Dubost found it there, and started trying to find the original quote in Google Books, and couldn’t. He eventually found a much different quote from a posthumous work, Citadelle, and blogged about it. (Here’s Google Translate’s English version of his post.)
- Karl updated the Wikiquote entry.
I guess this is how it’s supposed to work, but seeing my own name in the post about the misattribution blew my mind. It all reminds me of one of my favorite Usenet jokes: the best way to get accurate information is to post inaccurate information and look for a response that starts “Actually…”
The Internet is sponsored by the word “actually.”