'A Dumb Person's Idea of a Smart Person': Whose Line Is It?

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(See update below.) Last night I quoted items from Stephen Budiansky and Andrew Sullivan, both about Newt Gingrich. Budiansky, whose father was an eminent professor at Harvard, said that Gingrich sounded like the cartoon version of a pointy-headed know-it-all academic, as someone who'd never known real scholars might imagine one. The headline on Sullivan's item said that Gingrich was "a dumb person's idea of a smart person."

Since then I have been inundated with messages about who "really" came up with the "dumb person's idea of a smart person" line. Some people nominate Paul Krugman. Krugman himself nominated Ezra Klein, who had applied it very aptly to Dick Armey, PhD. Alan Grayson has also been using it about Gingrich.

But it turns out that the line has been around since long before Newt Gingrich's current renaissance. Nearly two years ago in England, it was being credited to "the late satirist Willie Donaldson," who allegedly applied it to the comic Stephen Fry. Late last year the English writer Julie Birchill began a column in the Independent this way:

My husband claims that it was I who coined the line about Stephen Fry that he is "a stupid person's idea of a clever person". And if I weren't a sober person's idea of a booze-addled person, I might be more useful in remembering whether this is true or not. Whatever, it's pretty damn good.

I have no doubt that with further effort people will find instances coming from Oscar Wilde, or Mark Twain, or Jonathan Swift, or Moliere, or on back perhaps to Aristophanes or Sun Tzu.

So let's stop the hair-splitting and agree: the person who came up with the line was me. Now, back to work.
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UPDATE. OK, either it was me in 2011, or someone else 75 years earlier. Courtesy of Joshua Friedman,

Elizabeth Bowen writing about Aldous Huxley in the Spectator, December 11, 1936:

"Mr. Huxley has been the alarming young man for a long time, a sort of perpetual clever nephew who can be relied on to flutter the lunch-party ... He is at once the truly clever person and the stupid person's idea of the clever person."
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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