If you’re graduating soon, you have undoubtedly received mail about purchasing graduation invitations and announcements. Included in these announcements is the oft-quoted line from Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”
This quote is inspirational in that it commends the life of those who choose to follow a path that others would not attempt.
Or it would be inspirational if the poem itself suggested that this reading was at all correct. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. The poem states that both paths are “just as fair,” meaning the paths are equally good. It also does not state whether “all the difference” that came from choosing the “less traveled” path was a positive difference or a negative difference. It is completely ambiguous as to whether the speaker regrets or celebrates taking the path he chose.
The misuse of this quote is obvious to anyone who has read the poem, and I think it is safe to assume that the company who is selling these graduation announcement has at least one employee in their copy writing or design department who has read the poem.
Is this an intentional move? An inside joke for the designers of the cards?
In today’s world, the misuse, misinterpretation, and misattribution of quotes is a huge deal. Quotes that were supposedly said by famous people are wielded like swords to cut off analyses of issues before a discussion can even begin.
Even worse, they’re plastered over Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, copy-pasted onto pictures of sunsets, running shoes, color gradient backgrounds, black and white photos or yellow, be-goggled minions.
They’re used not to inform opinions and facilitate deeper engagement with a subject but to reaffirm a belief already held. After all, if Einstein said something that can be construed to agree with my opinion, how can I be wrong?
To combat this, sites like Quote Investigator have been researching the correct attribution and correct context for famous quotes. Reading through their site is a sobering reminder that the original context of a quote can deeply change how we feel about it.
While sound bites, video clips, and quotes pasted onto a sunset are easily accessible, they degrade our discourse, and if we lose our ability to research, analyze and discuss ideas, are we really human?