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

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jun 28 05:42:37 EDT 2018

Barry Popik found great citations in 1878 and shared them with some
follow researchers off-list. Here is the earliest cite in his batch:

[ref] 1878 March 31, The Evansville Daily Courier, Fresh Freshmen: The
Blunders of Embryo Learned Ones at the College—No Wonder They Are
Hazed, Quote Page 3, Column 3, Evansville, Indiana.

[Begin excerpt]
Out in Illinois, likewise there is said to live a Freshman who, when
asked by Senior, "Do you know why our college is such a learned
place?" had the wit to respond, "Of course; the Freshmen all bring a
little learning here, and as the Seniors never take any away, it
naturally accumulates."
[End excerpt]

Inspired but this effort I was to make some further progress. Below is
an 1845 citation for a version of the joke credited to Jonathan Swift
who died in 1745.

[ref] 1845, A Course of English Reading: Adapted to Every Taste and
Capacity: with Anecdotes of Men of Genius by The Rev. James Pycroft
(Trinity College, Oxford), Quote Page 28, Wiley and Putnam, New York.
(Google Books Full View) link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
Swift said that the reason a certain university was a learned place
was, that most persons took some learning there, and few brought any
away with them, so it accumulated.
[End excerpt]

I have not yet found substantive evidence supporting this ascription to Swift.


On Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at 2:11 AM, ADSGarson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
> 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
> itself.
> [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]
> https://books.google.com/books?id=a0viAAAAMAAJ&q=%22bring+it+in%22#v=snippet&
> [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]
> https://books.google.com/books?id=duBQAQAAMAAJ&q=%22Freshmen+bring%22#v=snippet&
> [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.
> Garson
> 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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