[Ads-l] Joke about the accumulation of knowledge in universities

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jun 28 02:11:54 EDT 2018

Further progress: The jest appeared in a student periodical of the
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1891 within a section called
"Exchanges". The acknowledgement given was "Ex.", and I think that
simply referred to "Exchanges", i.e., the magazine was crediting

[ref] 1891 March 7, The Chronicle-Argonaut, Volume 1, Number 17,
Exchanges, Start Page 242, Quote Page 243, Column 1, Published Weekly
During the College Year by the Chronicle-Argonaut Association of the
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Google Books Full View)
link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
"Why is there so much learning to be had in college?"
"Because the freshmen bring it in, and the seniors don't take it out."—Ex.
[End excerpt]

The previous QI article (soon to be updated) tentatively credited the
joke to George Edgar Vincent who was President of the University of
Minnesota. But a 1902 citation reveals that Vincent credited Harvard
President Lowell.

[ref] 1902, Regents Bulletin Number 58, 40th University Convocation of
the State of New York, Held June 30 to July 1, 1902, Speech Title:
Education and Efficiency, Speaker: Professor George E. Vincent
(University of Chicago), Date of Speech: July 1, 1902, Start Page 287,
Quote Page 289, Published by University of the State of New York,
Albany, New York. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
Mr Lowell was once asked how he accounted for the fact that such
accumulations of knowledge were to be found in Cambridge. "Oh! that is
simple enough," was his whimsical reply. "You see, the freshmen bring
up such quantities of information, and the seniors take nothing away,"
We should all like to think this a somewhat overstatement of the
facts, and yet we have to admit that the theory of profound erudition
must be reluctantly abandoned.
[End excerpt]

So, the tentative ascription goes to the University of Michigan student editors.


On Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 5:35 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
> Harry Lewis, Professor of Computer Science at Harvard asked me to
> explore a quip often attributed to Abbott Lawrence Lowell who was the
> President of Harvard from 1909 to 1933.
> Fred's "Yale Book of Quotations" lists a 1949 attribution to Lowell
> from "The Reader's Digest". That is the best evidence I saw in the
> modern references.
> The Quote Investigator website now has an entry with citations
> starting in 1912 when George Edgar Vincent who was President of the
> University of Minnesota used the joke in a speech.
> Universities Are Full of Knowledge; the Freshmen Bring a Little In and
> the Seniors Take None Away, Thus Knowledge Accumulates
> https://quoteinvestigator.com/2018/06/27/univ-know/
> Here are the details of the 1912 cite. Earlier evidence and other
> interesting citations would be welcome.
> [ref] 1912 February 9, The Bemidji Daily Pioneer, Vincent Captivates
> Bemidji Audience: Minnesota University Head Holds Nearly 1000
> Listeners Spellbound Throughout Lecture, Quote Page 1, Column
> 2,Bemidji, Minnesota. (Newspapers_com)[/ref]
> [Begin excerpt]
> His humor was bright and everywhere evident. He said, that the reason
> for there being so much knowledge at the great universities and
> colleges of the country is that the Freshmen bring some knowledge with
> them and the Seniors take none of it away.
> [End excerpt]
> Garson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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