The coldest winter…San Francisco

The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.
--Mark Twain

Open up just about any guide book or web site about San Francisco and you’ll find this quote. The trouble is, Twain never said it, or at least it doesn’t appear in any of his published works or extant letters and papers. The quote is sometimes attributed to other writers, but the clear favorite is Twain.

But Twain did write about the San Francisco climate and his conclusions were completely at odds with this alleged quote. In chapter 56 of Roughing It:

The climate of San Francisco is mild and singularly equable. The thermometer stands at about seventy degrees the year round. [...] It is as pleasant a climate as could well be contrived, take it all around, and is doubtless the most unvarying in the whole world.

Although, Twain did once say something sort of like the alleged quote, although it wasn’t about San Francisco. In an 1880 letter he quoted a wit, who when asked if he had ever seen such a winter, replied, “Yes. Last summer.” Twain commented, “I judge he spent his summer in Paris.”

So this appears to be a case of popular misattribution of a witty saying, possibly based on a mangling of what he said in the 1880 letter. Twain is a frequent victim of false attributions, and I say “victim” because Twain’s actual writings tend to be wittier and more insightful than most of the quotes falsely attributed to him. A good rule of thumb is that unless the source of a Twain quote is given, one should be skeptical that he ever said it.

(Source: The Quote Verifier)

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