clown question

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jun 18 19:05:15 UTC 2012

Around 1770 the Scottish poet and philosopher James Beattie responded
to a solipsistic philosophical stance by proposing "one clownish

This phrase is not very common in Google Books with only 35 instances
(according to GB).

Cite: 1773, An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, In
Opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism by James Beattie, Fourth
Edition, [The first edition might be dated 1770], Page 274, Printed
for Edward and Charles Dilly, London. (Google Books full view)

[Begin excerpt]
But if I were permitted to propose one clownish question, I would fain
ask, Where is the harm of my continuing in my old opinion, and
believing, with the rest of the world, that I am not the only created
being in the universe, but that there are many others, whose existence
is as independent on me as mine is on them?
[End excerpt]


On Mon, Jun 18, 2012 at 11:08 AM, Bonnie Taylor-Blake
<b.taylorblake at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Bonnie Taylor-Blake <b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: clown question
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Mon, Jun 18, 2012 at 6:50 AM, David Barnhart <dbarnhart at> wrote:
>> "You always get that class clown question. 'No, I was the class accountant,
>> but the class comedian got sick. I stepped in, and decided I'm not giving
>> this up.' It's the same 10 questions. Ahhhh, shut up!" [Mike] MacDonald said
>> before heading in to tape the new program.
>> Larry McShane, "What's New In Comedy," Associated Press (Nexis), March 23,
>> 1992, Monday, PM cycle
> OK, but I think the distinction between this occurrence and Bryce
> Harper's usage is that MacDonald was talking about a question related
> to being a class clown while Harper essentially called out the
> reporter for asking a silly/ridiculous question, one not worth his
> time addressing.
> (I'm going to try out "that's a clown question" this week, though not
> with any of my superiors.)
> -- Bonnie
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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