As you know, the expression "what if I told you" came from The Matrix. But what if I told you it didn't? First off, Morpheus never said that phrase in any of the films. Second thing, if you take a look at Google Ngrams (red line is uppercase (obviously more common) while green line is lowercase):

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the phrase was more common than "bad feeling about this" beforehand, but only really gained popularity at about the same time, although long before The Matrix. I'm not familiar enough with pop culture to know any famous use of the phrase around the time Star Wars came out, so was there any such use that suddenly kickstarted the phrase's popularity, or was it natural?

  • 5
    It is very common for famous lines to morph as they become memes. Kirk never once said "Beam me up, Scotty", and Vader never said "Luke, I am your father."
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 16:24
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    I'd question whether anyone thought it originated in The Matrix. (BTW, what is the actual line in The Matrix?) Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 16:30
  • @ThePopMachine - Which line are you referring to?
    – JohnP
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 16:33
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    Resisting the urge to change the title to: What if I told you “What if I told you” doesn't reference The Matrix?
    – kjw
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 17:20
  • 3
    @kjw I support that edit Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 1:05

1 Answer 1


As far as I'm aware, that particular phrase was in regular conversational use before The Matrix, but it's popularity as a meme is obviously because of the movie. It was not a "catch phrase" for any other character or work that I know of prior to Morpheus.

So yes, the phrase and the meme did come from The Matrix. It's just a mis-quote. It's extremely common for popular phrases from movies and TV to get altered slightly as people repeat them and misquote them. This is particularly true when the mis-quoted version is more pithy or more succinct than the original.

In The Matrix, Morpheus gives a long speech about the Matrix, which starts off with "Let me tell you...". He then proceeds to tell Neo some very unbelievable things. Later, in the Construct, he says a number of similar lines of dialoge of the general sense of "Why do you think xxx is real?" Most likely, the all of this dialogue has been compressed to it's basic concept, expressed in the far more meme-worthy, "What if I told you..."

There are a number of other famous examples. For example:

  • There's not one time in any TOS show or movie where Kirk says "Beam me up, Scotty!". In most cases, he says some variation of "Enterprise, [1/2/3] to beam up", and usually only mentions Scotty by name when things are going bad. There are times when he comes close, but it's never exactly those words. (Shatner did eventually use the phrase exactly as commonly quoted, but it was long after it became a pop-culture phenomenon, as an homage.)

  • The most famous line in perhaps all of Star Wars is "Luke, I am your father". But Vader never says that. The actual dialogue line, in response to Luke's "He told me you killed him", is "No, I am your father."

  • There's no point in Casablanca where Rick, or anyone else, says "Play it again, Sam." The actual dialogue is several lines long.

and there are others.


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