“How Many People Work Here?” “About Half of Them”

Charles M. Schwab? Reed Smoot? Pope John XXIII? Fliegende Blätter? Edgar Wallace? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A visitor to a large business watched as numerous workers moved purposefully along the hallways into offices. The visitor approached the leader of the company and asked:

“This is such a busy place! How many people work here?”

The leader pondered the question carefully and replied:

“I would guess about forty percent.”

I have heard many versions of this joke. In one instance, the location was Vatican City, and the punchline was spoken by the Pope. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This anecdote is part of a large evolving family of tales. The ratio of workers to non-workers varies. The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in the popular German humor magazine “Fliegende Blätter” in 1907. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Mißverstanden
„Wieviel Leute sind denn bei Euch im Bureau tätig?“
„Tätig? Na — zwei Drittel!“

The issue containing the joke was undated, but it was the eighth weekly issue of 1907, so it probably appeared around late February.

The first instance in English located by QI appeared in the New York magazine “Transatlantic Tales” within a filler item titled “Misunderstood”. The German source was acknowledged. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

Misunderstood
“How many people work in your office?”
“Work? Perhaps two-thirds of them.”
—Translated for Transatlantic Tales from “Fliegende Blätter.”

The cover date of “Transatlantic Tales” was November 1907, but the issue was available before the cover date. A newspaper in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania published a matching joke on October 19, 1907 while acknowledging “Transatlantic Tales” and noting that the original source was “Fliegende Blaetter”. 3 The word “Blaetter” was an alternative spelling of “Blätter”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “How Many People Work Here?” “About Half of Them”

Notes:

  1. 1907, Fliegende Blätter, Volume 126, Number 3213, Mißverstanden, Quote Page 92, Verlag Braun & Schneider, Munich, Germany. (Heidelberg historic literature – digitized; Access via digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de) link
  2. 1907 November, Transatlantic Tales, Volume 37, Number 1, Misunderstood (Filler item), Quote Page 97, Ess Ess Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1907 October 19, The Star-Independent, Misunderstood (Filler item), Quote Page 9, Column 7, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

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.

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

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)

What Is a Highbrow? He Is a Man Who Has Found Something More Interesting Than Women

Edgar Wallace? Aldous Huxley? Paul Larmer? Russell Lynes? Katharine Whitehorn? Wayne C. Booth? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Human thoughts are often focused on relationships and intimacy. Yet, other cerebral pursuits may predominate when the mind shifts focus. Here are three closely related versions of a humorous definition:

  • A highbrow is a person who has found something more interesting than women.
  • Egghead: a guy who’s found something more interesting than women.
  • An intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex.

The first two versions are presented from a stance of gynephilia. The third is more general. This quip has been attributed to the popular and prolific English thriller writer Edgar Wallace. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The first match known to QI appeared in “The New York Times” in January 1932. A journalist interviewed Edgar Wallace and asked him about his prodigious output of stories. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Mr. Wallace insists there is no mystery about his quick writing. “I’m a newspaper man, and in the hard training of a newspaper office I have learned to marshal my thoughts and give them terse expression.

“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.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading What Is a Highbrow? He Is a Man Who Has Found Something More Interesting Than Women

Notes:

  1. 1932 January 24, The New York Times, Edgar Wallace Enjoys Hollywood, Quote Page X6, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest)