In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith remakes the past. I think that I helped re-make the internet past in the case of a famous quotation from George Leigh Mallory, but the imaginary past is now starting to undermine my authority as the originator of the corrected version.
When opening my 2006 dissertation, I sought to trace the origin of this phrase, “Because it’s there,” which was said to have been attributed to Mallory after he was asked, “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?” I had thought to explain my choice to edit the National Era version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and “because it’s there” seemed like as good an explanation as any: the University of Virginia library was one of only a handful in the world with a copy. I traced the quote back to an 18 March 1923 article in the New York Times, but I discovered that the question asked of Mallory was, “Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” In other words, his reply was in past tense, to explain why he had tried the mountain several times.
When I performed a quoted Google search while preparing my dissertation, on 10 January 2006, the quoted phrase with “did” returned zero results. That later became a little hook to open chapter 1 of my dissertation, and I made a little joke about Internet folklore in my first footnote: “While it is possible that folklore records the question more accurately than the documentary evidence, some Internet folkore [sic] on the do version of the question refers to Mallory’s questioner as a Times reporter, so it seems more likely that Internet folklore is immune to documentary evidence.” (2; http://www3.iath.virginia.edu/wnr4c/Raabe.Era.UTC.Diss.pdf)
Today, 4 March 2016, when I performed the quoted search on Google, “Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” the omnipresent Wikipedia explainer, which appears on the first page, assures me that did is the correct form of the quote.
Do I deserve the credit for fixing Internet folklore? Actually, I think I do. When I search quoted search with a date range, 1 January 2006 thru 1 January 2008, there is only one lonely Google search result returned, my dissertation.
Which affirms what I claimed in my dissertation. The skeptical reader asks: Why date range 2006-2008? How would we know you’re the first? Maybe someone preceded you. OK, let’s do it again, with all instances before 2008.
OK, so there are earlier results. But on Pinterest, back in 1999? and on Tumblr, back in 2001? Looks like Winston from Nineteen Eighty-Four has struck again. And what about the omitted results? OK, now we have it.
The correct version of Mallory’s famous quote was first reported on Pinterest, back on December 23, 1972.
The moral of the story, except when you’re scooped by Pinterest, is that open-access dissertations make the world a slightly better place. So I’m going to take credit for correcting the famous Mallory quote on the Internet.
As the kids say, Booyah!
PS: I’ve decided not to remake the past by subtly altering a quotation from my dissertation, so the [sic] acknowledges the spelling error folkore in my footnote.