He chuckled. ‘That old line. You’re reading the wrong newspaper!’
The statement “You read the wrong newspaper!” is an exclamation of exasperation and pity. When was the first time this statement was recorded in print or in any other medium? In which language was it stated? By whom? And why?
The first time I heard someone say “You Read the Wrong Newspaper” – in Dutch – must have been in the early nineteen-seventies. This was more an exclamation of exasperation and pity than a simple statement of fact. It was said because the speaker felt exasperation and pity for the reader of a liberal-conservative newspaper. Later I heard and read the same phrase many more times. Mostly in the same unmistakably condescending way. The phrase was always deliberately used as a rhetorical device: a debate-stopper. Recently, in an ironic or a dialectic twist of history, I heard the same phrase spoken, this time by a liberal-conservative speaker to someone who ostensibly challenged his opinions and ‘facts’. First I thought ‘The Times They Are a-Changin‘ once again, then I started wondering: from where does this phrase actually originate? When was it first recorded? In which language? By whom? And why?
Thus the Open Question became: Who First Said or Wrote: “You Read the Wrong Newspaper”?
Firstly, I conducted a quantitative Google search in three languages (English, German, Dutch). The results of the Google search (Germany, 20 December 2014, between 11:15 and 11:20 CET) are thus:
|phrasing||number of Google hits|
|“you read the wrong newspaper”||3,460|
|“you read a wrong newspaper”||0|
|“you’re reading the wrong newspaper”||796|
|“you’re reading a wrong newspaper”||7|
|“you are reading the wrong newspaper”||261|
|“you are reading a wrong newspaper”||0|
|“Sie lesen die falsche Zeitung||44|
|“Sie lesen eine falsche Zeitung”||0|
|“du liest die falsche Zeitung”||834|
|“du liest eine falsche Zeitung”||0|
|“U leest de verkeerde krant”||6|
|“U leest een verkeerde krant”||0|
|“je leest de verkeerde krant”||102|
|“je leest een verkeerde krant”||0|
In all three languages the versions with the definite article (“the”, “die”, “de”) are more frequent than the versions with the indefinite article (“a”, “eine”, “een”) . Most of the time the version with the definite article is the only versions. In both German and Dutch the informal versions (“du”, “je”) are more popular than the formal versions (“Sie”, “U”). Apart from the very basic quantitative results the Google search did not provide qualitative data that could answer any of the four questions (where, when, by whom and why).
When it became apparent that the Google search had not yielded any answers, I consulted two relevant professors in Germany (University of Bamberg; Technical University of Dortmund) and one in the Netherlands (University of Groningen). I also contacted the Internationales Zeitungsmuseum in Aachen (Aix-La-Chapelle). Only the Dutch professor replied and he frankly admitted that, although he, too, had heard the phrase often been uttered, he did not know from where it originates.
Finally, as a last desperate measure, I contacted Dr Garson O’Toole of Quote Investigator and put the question to him. I have not received his answer yet.
The phrase “You read the wrong newspaper” may be connected with the Marxist term ‘false consciousness’. This term was introduced – in print – by Friedrich Engels. Even though it was never clearly defined it meant something like “the material, ideological and institutional processes in capitalist society [that] mislead members of the proletariat”. In the end it boils down to the idea that someone who does not share your opinions has as false consciousness. The idea is as old as mankind but the phrasing was new and sounded more scientific and with more revolutionary engagement than the flippantly relativistic ‘Well, that is what you think’. The relation between the phrase and the term may be via the German adjective ‘falsch’: “falsches Bewustsein” (false consciousness), “falsche Ideologie” (false ideology), and “Sie lesen die falsche Zeitung” (you read the wrong newspaper). If this were true that would mean that the origin of the phrase lies in the German language and probably in Germany itself.
Spot the ‘wrong’newspaper.
This preliminary search did yield no answer. Thus the question: ‘Who First Said or Wrote: “You Read the Wrong Newspaper”?’ remains very much open.
Dutch Academy of ’Pataphysics, Amsterdam
Notes and references:
 Sophie King, The Supper Club. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2008, p. 414.
 This label – liberal-conservative – for what it is worth.
 At 12:35 of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MHmsb17TH4 (last access 20.12.2014)
 http://quoteinvestigator.com/ (last access 20.12.2014)
 http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1893/letters/93_07_14.htm (last access 20.12.2014)
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_consciousness (last access 20.12.2014)
 “2003 newsagent England 1205519685” by Dan Brady from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK – Toppling of Saddam – newspapers. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2003_newsagent_England_1205519685.jpg#mediaviewer/File:2003_newsagent_England_1205519685.jpg (last access 20.12.2014)