[This is a guest post by Silas S. Brown]
"One night, we can build a nouveau riche, three generations to cultivate an aristocrat." – Shakesepare
Needless to say Shakespeare didn't say such a thing – if he did, the compilers of the Oxford Dictionary of English would not have labelled the word "aristocrat" as being first used in the 18th century (which is later than Shakespeare), not to mention other anachronisms. If the forger had instead cited a 19th-century poet, that might have made it slightly more difficult to detect at fifty paces, but it must have been hard to resist the lure of citing the one that everyone has heard of even if they've just started to learn English.
An Internet search will show you that quite a few learners of English in China have bandied about this fake quote. In fact, it seems to be limited ONLY to learners of English in China. There must be a whole raft of fake English quotes that exist only among the lore of foreign learners.
From the introduction to the ABC Dictionary of Proverbs (Hawaii, 2015) by John Rohsenow:
Anyone living and interacting within Chinese society … becomes aware of the all-pervading nature of proverbs and proverbial sayings in Chinese life, both in daily speech, as well as in Chinese writings and other media.
It therefore seems understandable that Chinese students of English might be tempted to falsely attribute their thoughts to famous foreign authors, in the same way that some Westerners have written fake Chinese proverbs.
(In this case, I think what they meant to say is "It takes one night to build a nouveau riche, but three generations to cultivate an aristocrat." But the students who pass it on probably don't stop to consider if the English is grammatical – after all, if it's Shakespeare then he should know what he's doing!)
Unfortunately it's not clear from a cursory search just how this quote entered urban legend; the only obvious data is it has been doing the rounds since at least 2011. In 2014 an essay on a site called Liúxué lùnwén 留学论文 (Papers for those who are studying overseas) (evidently meant to be lifted by students studying abroad who don't want to do their own homework) included the quote, and what excited me briefly was they had an academic reference for it, which I thought might provide some clues as to how this quote entered the lore. But when I looked up the paper in question I found no mention of the quote at all, so that essay's citation was either mistaken or forged. (It's also one sure way of getting your use of a lifted essay detected: if I as an assessor received that in an essay from a student, I might well have become all curious as to how people ended up thinking Shakespeare said this, and would have done some searches or at the very least checked that reference, which is very easy if you have an institutional login to the journal so that you can check online without even waiting till your next library visit.)
One thing we can say though is, this makes it obvious that many Chinese people like proverbs, and some learners of English are so desperate to use good English proverbs in their writing that they'll invent a quote (clearly they had no access to an English dictionary of quotations). I do however think it's a pity that people who come across these fake quotes store them for later personal use without question – I would never use a quote I heard unless I'd at least tried to verify it, but perhaps I'm a dying breed.
"Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived, for only the faithful few strain to doubt their References" – 2 Timothy 3:13