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Q: famous saying: ( Answered,   4 Comments )
Subject: famous saying:
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: fritzg-ga
List Price: $15.00
Posted: 16 Apr 2003 21:14 PDT
Expires: 16 May 2003 21:14 PDT
Question ID: 191570
stories about my death are premature ' exaggerated" (forgive my spelling ..0
Subject: Re: famous saying:
Answered By: tisme-ga on 16 Apr 2003 21:43 PDT
Hello fritzg,

Mark Twain indeed said the quote and the proper version is: "The
reports of my death are greatly exaggerated"

Here are some academic links (.EDU) to back up this version:

I hope this is the type of answer you were looking for. If you need
any clarifications, please let me know and I will do my best to assist
you. If you are interested in how I found this answer for you, please
continue reading.

All the best,


Search Strategy: 

Here is my mental train of thought as I worked to find the solution
for you. I found different versions of the quote, but they were
obviously errors because only one or two websites had them. I include
them though as well as the search terms in case you are interested in
how I found this solution.

Google Search: twain "report about my death"

As Mark Twain said, 'The report about my death was an exaggeration,'
and the same can be said today about VHS."

Next hit I made was with this search in Google Groups:
twain "stories about my death" OR "story about my death"

"("The stories about my death have been greatly exaggerated" or
something like

My next search: twain "rumors about my death"

I found two sources with this version: "the rumors about my death are
greatly exaggerated":

Finally I found the right quote with this search on Google (1,590
twain "of my death" exaggerated OR exaggerated

This search made me confident that this was the right quote (994
results with this exact quote):
twain "reports of my death" exaggerated OR exaggerated

This search made me even more confident (took a look at the 587
results that did not use "reports of my death" but had "of my death"
and found they were mostly typos or deviations from the proper quote:
twain exaggerated OR exaggerated "of my death " -"reports of my"

Finally, I was interested in how many universities had the version I
thought was right, so I searched for:
site:edu twain "reports of my death" exaggerated OR exaggerated

This exact quote had a majority:
site:edu twain "reports of my death are greatly exaggerated"

Clarification of Answer by tisme-ga on 17 Apr 2003 06:36 PDT
Hello fritzg,

I guess we know now why there are so many variations of the quote. It
appears that Mark Twain verbally gave the quote to a reporter:

"Usually misquoted as, "Reports of my death have been greatly
exaggerated”, Samuel Langhorn Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, actually
penned “… the report of my death was an exaggeration”, in a May, 1897
note to the New York Journal. The Journal, which had transmogrified
news of the illness of Twain’s cousin, James Ross Clemens, into that
of Twain’s death, evidently printed Twain’s correction on 2-Jun-1897."

Here you can see a copy of the original note:
The original note uses "The report of my illness grew out of his
illness, This report of my death was an exaggeration".

It appears that Mark Twain later corrected the quote to: "The report
of my death is an exaggeration." New York Journal, June 2, 1897
This was verified by a Reference Librarian at the John Marshall Law
School Library in Chicago IL.

As of right now I believe that the proper version is "The report of my
death are greatly exaggerated." Although more people use "reports or
my death," Mark Twain seems to have preferred the former version over
the latter.

Thanks missy and juggler for helping me on this tricky problem!


Search Strategy: 

"mark twain" "new york journal" 1897 "my death"
Subject: Re: famous saying:
From: missy-ga on 16 Apr 2003 22:06 PDT
I've always heard this variant:

"Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated."

"Few letters to the editor have as powerful an influence on both a
daily newspaper and its readership as a letter published the next day
which in one sentence observes that a key statement or assumption in
the news story or editorial was false. As a model for an effective
letter to the editor, again, emulate Mark Twain's famous letter to the
New York Sun:  "Reports of my demise  have been greatly exaggerated.""

Writing Letters To The Editor

[ "reports of my demise" "Mark Twain" ]

A similar variant reads "News of my untimely demise is, of course,
greatly exaggerated."  Still others read along the lines of what Tisme
has found for you.

Perhaps the best way to confirm what Mr. Clemens said would be to
speak with the archivists at the New York Sun, to see if they have a
copy of his letter.

Subject: Re: famous saying:
From: juggler-ga on 16 Apr 2003 22:17 PDT
Here's another take on this:

"Other apocryphal Twainisms include:
'The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.'   (Actually, in
1897, when reports of the illness of James Ross Clemens, a cousin,
were somehow misconstrued to mean that Twain himself was lying at
death's door in London, he cleared up matters by telling the reporter
who'd stopped by to check on him that 'The report of my death was an
exaggeration.' The 'greatly' was added by Twain himself years after
the fact in preparing an account of this incident. In his first draft
he has himself directing the reporter to "Say the report is
exaggerated,'' but in a later draft he scribbled "greatly" in front of
'exaggerated.' And there was never a wire sent to a London paper, as
the anecdote now has it.)"
Subject: Re: famous saying:
From: tisme-ga on 16 Apr 2003 22:24 PDT
Hi missy,

I did run across those version as well but based my answer on the most
popular version online. I guess it could be the case that everybody is
misquoting, but I thought that using edu websites would be a safeguard
from that.

site:edu "reports of my demise" "Mark Twain" only has five results. In
addition, "new york sun" "of my death" twain also returns only five

"of my demise" twain returns 300 results. 
"of my demise" twain "new york sun" returns only three results.

"of my death" twain returns 4,290.

I have to agree with you though and if fritzg wants to follow up on
this here is the contact information for the New York Sun:

For General Information: 
write to:  105 Chambers Street, 2nd Fl
New York, NY 10007 
telephone:  212-406-2000 

Thanks for the commment missy,

Subject: Re: famous saying:
From: missy-ga on 17 Apr 2003 00:12 PDT

Have a look at Juggler's source.

It appears that while this quote is often attributed to Mark Twain,
it's unlikely that he ever said it (which would certainly explain the
many variations of the tale!)


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