For There Is Nothing As Stupid As an Educated Man If You Get Off the Thing That He Was Educated In

Will Rogers? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Achieving extensive knowledge and expertise in one domain can be quite valuable, but it does not automatically allow one to pontificate intelligently in a different domain. The intellectual mastery attained by some experts is quite narrow. Here is a germane remark:

There is nothing so stupid as an educated man, if you get him off the thing he was educated in.

This zinger has been attributed to the popular humorist Will Rogers, but the phrasing is probably inexact. Would you please help me to find an accurate version with a solid citation?

Quote Investigator: Will Rogers published a widely-syndicated newspaper column for many years. In 1931 he wrote a piece about a request he had received from the historian, and philosopher Will Durant who wished to know about his goals, inspirations, and life philosophy. Durant sent a similar request to a variety of people, e.g., George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein, and Mahatma Gandhi.

Rogers did not directly respond to Durant’s questions in his column; instead, he presented somewhat disjointed comments about civilization, education and philosophy including the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

For there is nothing as stupid as an educated man if you get off the thing that he was educated in.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Will Durant assembled a book titled “On The Meaning Of Life” based on the replies he received from prominent individuals, and Rogers sent a note to Durant telling him that he could use the material in the newspaper column: 2

If there was anything in there any good to you take it . . .

Durant did reprint excerpts from the column by Rogers including the comment about “an educated man”. The text was slightly altered. The word “as” was changed to “so”, and a comma was inserted:

For there is nothing so stupid as an educated man, if you get off the thing that he was educated in.

In 1949 Donald Day selected and edited material from Rogers, and he published the posthumous “Autobiography of Will Rogers”. The 1931 version of the quotation was included. 3

In 1997 “The Forbes Book of Business Quotations” printed an instance with slightly altered phrasing. The word “him” was inserted: 4

There is nothing so stupid as an educated man, if you get him off the thing he was educated in.
Will Rogers

In conclusion, Will Rogers should receive credit for the words he published in 1931. Close variants have been attributed to him over time.

Image Notes: Stylized depiction of a library database from geralt at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1931 July 3, The Daily Times, Life Is Full of Things–But They Don’t Mean Anything by Will Rogers (McNaught Syndicate), Quote Page 2, Column 2, Davenport, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1933, On The Meaning Of Life, Edited by Will Durant, Part II: From Hollywood to the Ganges: Section 1, Will Rogers, Start Page 58, Quote Page 60 and 61, Williams & Norgate, London. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1949, Autobiography of Will Rogers, Selected and Edited by Donald Day, Chapter 16: We Get Fat in War and Thin in Peace, Date: July 5, 1931, Quote Page 248, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1997, The Forbes Book of Business Quotations: 14,173 Thoughts on the Business of Life, Edited by Ted Goodman, Topic: Education, Quote Page 235, Column 2, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, New York. (Verified with scans)