An Intellectual Is Someone Who Has Found Something More Interesting Than Sex

Aldous Huxley? Katharine Whitehorn? Edgar Wallace? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A widely reported psychological study asserted that people experienced erotic thoughts many times a day on average. Intellectuals, according to a comical definition, are able to free their minds sufficiently from carnal pursuits to consider other subjects of superior interest. The well-known author of “Brave New World”, Aldous Huxley, made a quip of this type. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI appeared in “The Observer” newspaper of London in 1968. The influential columnist Katharine Whitehorn attributed the remark to Aldous Huxley. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

You can attack synthetic sex or premature sex or mass-media sex; but if anyone made a remark like Huxley’s ‘An intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex’ it would nowadays be taken automatically as a defence.

This ascription occurred after Huxley’s death in 1963, and no evidence has yet emerged that Huxley actually made this remark. QI conjectures that this quip evolved from a comment made by thriller writer Edgar Wallace during an interview with “The New York Times” in January 1932: 2

“The highbrows tell me that my writing is not literature, and I retort that literature is too often unintelligible. What is a highbrow? He is a man who has found something more interesting than women. When I get that way I’ll stop writing and take to art.

The phrase “found something more interesting than” was shared between the two remarks. In addition, similar comments have been made using the terms “highbrow”, “egghead”, and “intellectual”. The joke evolved from a stance of gynephilia in 1932 toward a general stance in 1968. Whitehorn may have misremembered Wallace’s quotation. Alternatively, she heard and repeated a transformed remark already in circulation.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

QI has created a separate article focused on Edgar Wallace’s quotation which is available here.

By February 1932 a concisely rephrased version of Wallace’s comment was circulating in U.S. newspapers. The rhetorical question was elided, and the statement moved closer to the 1968 statement: 3

A highbrow is a person who has found something more interesting than women. When I get that way I’ll stop writing and take to art.—Edgar Wallace.

In 1961 “Speaker’s Encyclopedia of Humor” compiled by Jacob M. Braude printed a variant using the word “egghead” instead of “highbrow”: 4

Egghead: 1. a fellow who thinks about thinking. 2. a guy who’s found something more interesting than women.

In 1966 a book reviewer in a Californian newspaper employed an instance with the word “someone” instead of “man” or “person”: 5

A highbrow is “someone who found something more interesting than women” — “someone who looks at a sausage and thinks of Picasso.”

In 1968 Katharine Whitehorn ascribed an instance using “intellectual” to Aldous Huxley as mentioned previously: 6

. . . a remark like Huxley’s ‘An intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex’ . . .

In December 1970 the movie censor for Britain quit, and while talking to a journalist he employed an extended version of the saying attributed to Huxley: 7

“Aldous Huxley once defined an intellectual as somebody sometimes occasionally interested in something other than sex. There don’t seem to be many intellectuals in Europe by the films I’ve seen recently. Some of the stuff around London is terrible.

In 1989 Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty reviewed a book about intellectuals by Paul Johnson in “The New York Times”. She credited Huxley with the saying: 8

This is a book by an intellectual who tells us not to listen to intellectuals. Aldous Huxley once defined an intellectual as someone who had found something more interesting than sex. Paul Johnson’s definition is equally idiosyncratic: an intellectual is someone who wants to refashion the world, politically, in accordance with principles of his own devising.

The connection to Wallace was not forgotten. In 2003 he received credit for the saying with the word “intellectual” in the “Ottawa Citizen” of Ontario, Canada: 9

An intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex.
— Edgar Wallace

In 2006 “Treasury of Wit & Wisdom” credited Huxley with an instance using “discovered” instead of “found”: 10

An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex.
— Aldous Huxley

In conclusion, it is conceivable that Aldous Huxley crafted this remark, but currently there is no substantive evidence that he did. QI hypothesizes that the seed of the statement was spoken by Edgar Wallace in 1932. Variant phrasings blossomed over time, and the quip was incorrectly reassigned to Huxley by 1968.

Image Notes: Illustration of a book with some pages shaped into a heart symbol from DariuszSankowski at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Ilia Blinderman and Ilan Peer whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Additional thanks to top researcher Nigel Rees who listed the 1932 citation in his reference “Cassell’s Humorous Quotations”. Rees also cross-indexed the remark attributed to Huxley and gave a 1996 citation for it.)

Notes:

  1. 1968 March 3, The Observer, Yer silly old moos by Katharine Whitehorn, Quote Page 27, Column 7, London, Greater London, England. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1932 January 24, The New York Times, Edgar Wallace Enjoys Hollywood, Quote Page X6, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest)
  3. 1932 February 6, Decatur Herald, Unexpected Remarks, Quote Page 6, Column 2, Decatur, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1961, Speaker’s Encyclopedia of Humor, Edited by Jacob M. Braude, Chapter: Definitions, Quote Page 274, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified with hardcopy)
  5. 1966 October 23, Independent Star-News, Section: The Lively Arts Scene, Art Expert Expounds by George Feinstein(Review of Russell Lynes’s “Confessions of a Dilettante”), Quote Page 4, Column 2, Pasadena, California. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1968 March 3, The Observer, Yer silly old moos by Katharine Whitehorn, Quote Page 27, Column 7, London, Greater London, England. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1970 December 9, Escanaba Daily Press, John Trevelyan, Britain’s Movie Censor, Quits (Associated Press), Quote Page 16, Column 5, Escanaba, Michigan. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1989 March 12, New York Times, Section: The New York Times Book Review, The Great Unwashed By Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty (Book Review of Paul Johnson’s “Intellectuals”), Quote Page 3, Column 1, New York. (ProQuest)
  9. 2003 January 11, Ottawa Citizen, Section: Style Weekly, Sex and the thinking person: A walk through Manhattan’s Museum of Sex by Chris Cobb, Quote Page E3, Column 3,Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Newspapers_com)
  10. 2006, Treasury of Wit & Wisdom: 4,000 of the Funniest, Cleverest, Most Insightful Things Ever Said, Compiled by Jeff Bredenberg, Topic: Reading and Writing, Quote Page 90, Column 1, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with scans)