John Muir Misquoted:
Misquote Alert: CAUTION - JOHN MUIR NEVER SAID THIS: "When one tugs
at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world."
John Muir Quotations
See correct quote below!
We are frequently asked for the source of the above misquote, which
has been included in many popular "favorite quotes" websites around the Internet,
and is indiscriminately posted on Twitter and other social networks. Actually, this statement is NOT
what Muir wrote. It is only a shortened paraphrase of what Muir wrote, and
is not nearly as interesting, eloquent, and charming as Muir's original.
Another variant of this misquote found on the Internet likewise mistakenly attributed
to John Muir is this one:
"Tug on anything at all and you'll find it connected to everything else in the universe."
A less popular variant of this misquote, but which appears to be another early source we can find on the Internet through a google search is from 1997, where the authors of a paper titled Report on Integrated Practice: 4: Roadmap for Integration - American Institute of Architects claimed (without citation) that Muir waid
"When we try to tug on anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."
http://www.aia.org/aiaucmp/groups/aia/documents/pdf/aias076787.pdf (retrieved April 9, 2015).
The earliest source for this "tugs" misquote we can find on the Internet through a Google Books search is from 1994, in Timber Wars By Judi Bari (Common Courage Press, Nov 1, 1994), page 130, which used yet another version of the second variant above: ""Tug on anything in nature and you will find it is connected to everything else."
Earlier, yet another variation moved the "universe" from the end to the middle: ""Tug on anything in the universe, and you will find it connected to everything else." Designing Functional Streets That Contribute to Our Quality of Life by Margaret A. Kubilins (2000)
Source: http://ntl.bts.gov/lib/10000/10800/10868/Ec019_b3.pdf (retrieved April 9, 2015)
It appears that since then, that idea has morphed in the popular imagination into several (mistakenly) more popular variants listed above.
Some other sources of the most popular variant of the misquote listed at the top of this page appears to be in the Third Edition of the textbook Environmental Science: Systems and Solutions by Michael L. McKinney and
Robert M. Schoch (
Sudbury, Massachuseetts: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2003) and in the academic journal Environmental History (2004) 9 (4): 741-742 (http://envhis.oxfordjournals.org). The misquote seems to have been widely publicized and circulated with the publication of John Moir's (not a typo there) book Return of the Condor which uses this misquote and attributes it to John Muir on page 179.
It is a shame the publishers of all these textbooks, books and purportedly scholarly articles did not not correctly verify the quoite!
found it being mistakenly
used by Smith & Hawken on a 2007 gift card and in several products
in the Northern Sun catalog.
Worse, we even found it engraved on granite!
Astonishingly, I have even found this misquote used in a published book, Like a Hammer Shattering Rock By Megan McKennawhich for the citation (footnote 8) references this very web page - including the very file name "misquotes.aspx"!
Once again - Muir never said this! 1 Neither of
these quotes attributed to John Muir are correct. They are simply paraphrases
of the fundamental ecological principle of connectedness that Muir is considered
to be one of the first to articulate.
Sometimes it appears that writers just make something up out of whole cloth,
like this misquote attributed to John Muir in the San Francisco Chronicle on
January 8, 2005 by a journalist who should have known better: "If
you pick up anything in the universe, you find it hooked up to everything else." Sure,
this gets across the basic idea, but it garbles the proper place of the "universe"
and has none of the wit and indearingly quaint expression of Muir's actual
We have also heard yet another version of this quote, but attributed to John Burroughs: "Tug on one part of nature and you find the whole world connected." We don't put a lot of stock on this version of the quote either, since we've never found it on the Internet or in John Burroughs writings.
REWARD OFFERED: However, if you know of a documented source of any of these well-intentioned paraphrases - please let us know!
If you can prove that John Muir actually siad one of these two "tugs" variants, I will give you a free copy of the latest and most comprehensive Muir biography, A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster (Oxford University Press, 2008).
Here is the correct John Muir quote as Muir wrote and published it:
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it
hitched to everything else in the Universe."
You can verify the accuracy of this quote as it is found in Muir's book:
My First Summer in the Sierra
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911), on page 110 of the Sierra Club Books 1988 edition.
It is found in Chapter
To be sure, tracking down Muir quotes accurately can be difficult. He frequently wrote multiple versions of some of his most eloquent writings.
Given variant sources and multiple versions of Muir's writings, it is not surprising to find that Muir actually did originally express the same idea in the famous "hitched" quote in a different way. As originally written, he was nonetheless as eloquent as always, although rather more wordy:
"When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe. "
According to Stephen Fox's book, John Muir and His Legacy (p. 291), this is the original version of the famous quote, which Muir wrote in his journal for July 27, 1869. Muir's journals can be found in the John Muir Papers 2 . Fox notes that Muir later revised the first sentence to read with the word "hitched" in his book My First Summer in the Sierra.
So, we encourage you to quote John Muir correctly: please use either the "hitched" or
invisible cords" version of this quote. Any other version which use "tugs" is just a weak paraphrase.
In fact, Wiki Quotes reports a number of additional misattributed John Muir quotes as well as this one. Please don't just repeat these misattributed quotes!
- Harold Wood, Chair, Sierra Club John Muir Education Team
1. The only reference to "tug" based on a full-text search of
Muir's published writings is a reference to a steam tug that helped move a sailing
ship into a harbor in Cuba, which he describes in his book A
Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf.
2. Limbaugh, Ronald H.
Kirsten E. Lewis,
The John Muir Papers,
(Stockton, CA: University of the Pacific
With accompanying Guide
(Alexandria, Virginia: Chadwyk Healey,
With 40 copies in libraries throughout the United States,
and available to scholars through interlibrary loan,
this is the complete collection of all extant Muir correspondence,
manuscripts, notes, and illustrations.
See John Muir Collections, University of the Pacific
Favorite Quotations of John Muir
Writings of John Muir
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