Modern Proverb: Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Feb 17 22:25:26 UTC 2014

Follow-up: Here is an earlier 1937 instance of the metaphor though the
statement is not presented in proverbial form.

[ref] 1937 May, The Yale Law Journal, Volume 46, Number 7, On Legal
Scholarship by Max Radin, Start Page 1124, Quote Page 1133, Published
by The Yale Law Journal Company, Inc. (JSTOR) link [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Practical gentlemen hate uncertainty, balancing of probabilities,
skepticism or approximation. They have a number of bitterly satirical
comments on persons whose minds are so open that their brains fall
out. They are bent on getting to a conclusion.
[End excerpt]

Here is a match in Google Books that suggests the existence of an
instance circa 1939 of the modern proverb.

Periodical: The Smith Alumnae Quarterly
Volumes: 30-31
Year: 1938 and 1939
Quote Page: 153
(Unverified; Google Books snippet; metadata may be inaccurate. Probes
for 1939 indicate that the volume contains issues from 1939)

[Begin extracted text]
But don't keep your minds so open that your brains fall out! There are
still things in this world which are true and things which are false;
acts which are right and acts which are wrong, even if there are
statesmen who hide their designs under the cloak of high-sounding
[End extracted text]


On Mon, Feb 17, 2014 at 4:35 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Modern Proverb: Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall
>               out
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs has an entry for
>  If you're too open-minded, your brains will fall out.
> The first citation is dated 1960. I was sent a request to investigate
> this saying by someone who had found ascriptions to G. K. Chesterton
> and Marianne Moore.
> The earliest relevant citation I've found is a newswire story in 1940
> which reported on a speech by Professor Walter Kotschnig. The phrasing
> was a bit different.
> [ref] 1940 January 27, Blytheville Courier News, Professor Tells
> Students to Open Minds to Truth, Quote Page 2, Column 2 and 3,
> Blytheville, Arkansas. (NewspaperArchive)[/ref]
> [Begin excerpt]
> HOLYOKE, Mass (UP) - Prof. Walter Kotschnig told Holyoke College
> students to keep their minds open - "but not so open that your brains
> fall out."
> He condemned the purpose of students who go to college merely to learn
> skill and urged his listeners to find the "real aim of education, to
> acquire a philosophy of life, intellectual honesty, and a constant
> search for truth."
> [End excerpt]
> Garson
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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