long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Editing to change meaning

An article in the Wall St. Journal today points out that

You’ve probably heard the adage that “behind every great fortune is a great crime.” It’s attributed to the French novelist Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), and it seems to come up whenever a prestige journalist wants to express disdain for capitalism.

The article gives examples from the NYTimes, Financial Times, and Bloomberg.


The supposed quotation is based on a passage in Balzac's novel “Père Goriot,” about a group of grifters in Paris in the early 1800s. The actual quotation:

“The secret of great wealth with no obvious source is some forgotten crime, forgotten because it was done neatly.”

Omitting the bolded clause completely changes the meaning. 

The journal explains that, in contrast to mainstream media,

Others who use Balzac as a moral touchstone are more conscientious. In “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (2013), the left-wing French economist Thomas Piketty juxtaposed his condemnation of modern economic inequality with extensive references to Balzac. Yet he avoids mythical quotes and makes a startling acknowledgment for someone who advocates extreme wealth redistribution: Steve Jobs, he offers, “is the epitome of the admired and talented entrepreneur who fully deserves his fortune.” For some Balzac fans, not every great fortune starts with a crime.


Selective editing to change the meaning of original material is an ongoing problem with many academics who seek to promote their own agendas. In this blog we've looked at several examples. We'll discuss more in upcoming posts.

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