"don't think zebras"

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Fri Feb 19 12:56:26 UTC 2010

In the files of the in-progress _Yale Book of Modern Proverbs_, we have this:

1969  John A. Koepke, _Guide to Clinical Laboratory Diagnosis_ (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts) 79:  "These three causes [of edema] should always be prime considerations, and after they have been ruled out, other less common causes may be considered.  As one 'philosopher' put it:  'When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.'"

I don't know who the cited "philosopher" is.

Of course, the saying is a figurative statement of the so-called "principle of parsimony," a correlary of "Ockham’s razor."


---- Original message ----
>Date: Thu, 18 Feb 2010 21:35:25 -0500
>From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> (on behalf of victor steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>)>
>More GB, with alternative search strings:
>Medical Laboratory Technology, vol 28--date is accurate: Harvard
>Medical School has these starting with vol. 28, which is tagged as
>p. 339--reviewing an unknown (from the snippet) paper, the authors states:
>> The author's final words are apt — "when you hear hoofbeats think of horses, not zebras" or alternatively common things most commonly occur.
>Journal of Medical Education, vol 48, p. 1167 (date/volume match
>confirmed, but text not verified) The snippet is a bit cryptic:
>> ... the resident must still continue to think of all the possible disease ... is considered first; "if there are hoofbeats, look for horses, not zebras. ...
>Problem Solving in Clinical Medicine, p. 27
>> And if you hear the galloping of hooves, think of horses, not zebras — unless you are in East Africa.
>There are some other minor variations (not all prescriptive), but all
>other pre-1980 citations mention doctors, in general, (as do most
>post-1980 ones) save one which attributes the saying to an unnamed
>"philosopher" (quotation marks in the original).
>NOTE: citations not verified; I have not search any news archives

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