What is Churchillian Drift?

I was reminded of “Churchillian Drift” while reading the comments on Aphorisms by Ben Franklin. Churchillian Drift is a precursor to Anatole’s Axiom (scroll down the Corrections & Clarifications page for a short discourse on the subject) devised by British gnomologist Nigel Rees, and explained by him in his piece ‘Policing Word Abuse’: “Long ago, I coined the term ‘Churchillian Drift’ to describe the process whereby the actual originator of a quotation is often elbowed to one side and replaced by someone more famous. So to Churchill or Napoleon would be ascribed what, actually, a lesser-known political figure had said. The process occurs in all fields.” Churchillian Drift bobs up among some of the biggest names in the aphorism business, not just Churchill and Napoleon but Einstein

Not everything that counts can be counted


Be the change you wish to see in the world

and Lincoln

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

The thing is, though, you do not find yourself the target of Churchillian Drift unless, like Churchill himself, you are already a damn fine aphorist. Part of the reason it’s so easy to mis-attribute brilliant sayings to great aphorists is that they have already coined so many brilliant sayings themselves. Which is also why, I guess, they might feel occasionally justified in purloining an orphan phrase to make it their own. After all, Franklin may or may not have originated the aphorism

Neither a borrower nor a lender be

but he never said anything against being a plagiarist…