I spotted this faux-weathered sign in a shop in Galway. The full quote is: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
Of course it wasn’t attributed, so I had a quick look online today to figure out who said it first. Looking at this discussion online it appears that it is regularly attributed to Hilary Cooper or George Carlin.
But just because someone said something, doesn’t mean it originated with them. Another source claims that this was a quote written for a greeting card put out by the Carleton Card company in the mid 1970s.
Other sites on the web claim that the quote is by Shing Xion, who said: “In the end, it’s not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away.”
It’s been pointed out that this is remarkably close to a quote often attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
AHA! But did Lincoln actually say that? The excellent site, Quote Investigator, goes through the evidence and shows it was not the case (the best guess is that Edward J. Stieglitz M.D. said it first in 1947 in an advertisement for his book – or it was the advert copywriter!).
Back to our original quote: there’s a lengthy discussion about it on the QI site, which looks at various incarnations of this expression. If anything it’s a reminder that people pick up on ideas and/or phrases and forget where they hear them first. Over time, it can seem like an original thought.
Plus, it’s a warning against assuming anything you read on the Internet is true. I’m lending the QI site more ‘authority’ because it clearly demonstrates its line of inquiry and catalogues its sources. That puts it many notches above the quote vaults that populate the internet. Yet, it is doing the best it can with the information it has gathered.
For some people it only matters if the quote resonates with them.
Personally, I like to salute the person who came up with a good phrase when I repeat it.
Update: Kate Laity reminds me of the excellent quote by Mae West from I’m No Angel (1933), which you can see in the below trailer for the film.
Mae’s asked: “Why did you admit to knowing so many men in your life?”
Mae: “Well, it’s not the men in your life that counts, it’s the life in your men.”
(N.B. – Mae West wrote the story, screenplay, and dialogue for I’m No Angel, with some suggestions from Lowell Brentano. So, those are indeed her words.)