Winston Churchill Did Not Coin the Phrase ‘Iron Curtain’

precisely 69 years ago, on Mar. 5, 1946, Winston Churchill stood in a college gymnasium in Fulton, Mo., at the get down of the Cold War, while President Harry S. Truman sat behind him in a gown and mortarboard. Speaking to students gathered at Westminster College, he accepted an honorary degree and famously condemned the Soviet Union ’ s ways : “ From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the celibate. ”

The actual title of Churchill ’ s address was “ Sinews of Peace, ” though most people know it as the “ Iron Curtain speech. ” Over the years there has been another braid of the record. Churchill often gets credit for coining that metallic metaphor—on that stage—for the figurative barrier drawn across Europe between the capitalistic West and the communist East. But he did not. In fact, there ’ s evidence of the phrase being used to mean precisely that a estimable 26 years early when an E. Snowden ( seriously ) published a travelogue about her adventures in Bolshevik Russia.

so why do quotes get false histories ? Lots of reasons. Misattribution can be convenient. It ’ s easy not to question a coinage that it seems plausible—especially when it just therefore happens to give us good gravitas by association. “ You reach for a celebrated mention to give agency, ” says Elizabeth Knowles, editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. “ You want to say Churchill said it. Because you have associated what you ’ ra saying with that finical person, it gives the saying a piece more oomph. ” Iron curtain good feels like something a dulcet, witty orator like Churchill would come up with, properly ? And it ’ s a much clearer bespeak that you ’ re educated and that your words have heft if you attribute a quotation mark to Winston Churchill than to Snowden, an unremembered member of a trade-union deputation. many times people invoke quotations that were never said at all. “ Play it again, Sam. ” Neither Bogart nor Bergman said these words. “ Elementary, my dearly Watson. ” Doyle wrote no such thing. “ Beam me up, Scotty. ” Sorry, nope. These get passed on because we wish people had uttered them. “ A misquotation of that kind can be, about, what you feel person ought to have said, ” says Knowles. “ It summarizes for person something identical significant about a particular film, a particular relationship, a especial event. ” even if it ’ s made up and specially if it ’ mho close to things people actually did say, we embrace it as religious doctrine. After all, Bergman did arrant, “ Play it, Sam, ” in Casablanca. And Bogart did say, “ If she can stand it, I can ! Play it ! ”

sometimes misquotations get handed down because they convey the right idea and sound better to us than what the person actually said. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln gave a lecture in which he said, “ To give victory to the proper, not bloody bullets, but passive ballots only, are necessary. ” Over time, that sentiment been recrafted as, “ The vote is stronger than the bullet. ” The latter adaptation is snazzier. flush when sources know this precise give voice was credibly never actually used by Lincoln, they continue to pass it on. Take ’ s quotes site, where the well-sourced quote from 1858 is in the all right print. besides in fine print is the entree that the quote in giant star font across the top of the page was “ reconstructed ” 40 years after Lincoln was supposed to have said it. Which, ampere far as editors at Oxford are concerned, he did not .

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“ It ’ s a identical natural thing, that we edit as we remember, ” Knowles says. “ so when we quote something we very frequently have in heed the kernel of what ’ s being said. So we may alter it slenderly and we may good make it slenderly pithier or simpler for person else to remember. And that ’ s the shape that gets passed on. ” While it may be easier to remember that Churchill invented the iron curtain, here ’ s the real history :

In its earliest consumption, circa 1794, an “ iron curtain ” was a literal iron screen that would lowered in a theater to protect the hearing and auditorium from any ardor happen wing. From there, it became a general metaphor for an dense barrier. In 1819, the Earl of Muster described the indian river Betwah as an iron curtain that protected his group of travelers from an “ avenging angel ” of death that had been on their heels in that alien nation. then, in 1920, Ethel Snowden made it specifically about the East and West in Throughout Bolshevik Russia ( 1920 ) :

At stopping point we were to enter the country where the Red Flag had become a national emblem, and was flying over every public building in the cities of Russia. The think thrilled like modern wine … We were behind the ‘ iron curtain ’ at last !

Read TIME’s original coverage of the Mar. 5, 1946, speech, here in the TIME Vault: This Sad & Breathless Moment read adjacent : You Can nowadays Own a Vial of Winston Churchill ’ s Blood

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