lowest common denominator

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Wed Aug 15 21:38:55 UTC 2001

On Tue, 14 Aug 2001, James A. Landau wrote:

> Presumably some non-mathematician, needing a catchy phrase for "that small
> part understandable or usable by all" thought of the word "lowest" or "least"
> and was led by an incorrect memory of arithmetic to jump to "least common
> denominator".

The earliest nonmathematical usage I can find for "lowest common
denominator" is the following:

1910 H. G. Wells _The New Machiavelli_ 287  Most clubs have a common link,
a lowest common denominator in the Club Bore, who spares no one.

Fred "minored in mathematics at MIT, but has forgotten it all" Shapiro

Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
Associate Librarian for Public Services     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
  and Lecturer in Legal Research            Yale University Press,
Yale Law School                             forthcoming
e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu               http://quotationdictionary.com

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