[Ads-l] Quote: When you hear hoofbeats look for horses not zebras

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Nov 27 11:32:23 EST 2017

The saying in the subject line was discussed on this mailing list way
back in February and March 2010. The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs has
a 1969 citation. Barry Popik located a snippet match in Google Books
within a 1964 issue of "Reader's Digest". A librarian in Spokane,
Washington helped me to acquire scans of the May 1964 issue containing
the saying.

I also pushed the date back to October 5, 1962. An unnamed doctor at
the University of Arkansas School of Medicine employed the expression.

Wikipedia has an entry titled "Zebra (medicine)" that mentions the
adage, but it highlights indirect evidence in the form of long delayed
oral testimony.

Here is a link to the Quote Investigator article:

[Begin acknowledgement excerpt]
Great thanks to Kevin Holbeche whose inquiry led QI to formulate this
question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Dana
Dalrymple of the Spokane Public Library for acquiring scans of the
1964 Reader’s Digest citation. Many thanks to Barry Popik and Charles
Doyle for their pioneering research on this topic. Also thanks to
discussants Joel S. Berson, Victor Steinbok, Jonathan Lighter, Dan
Goncharoff, Ronald Butters Laurence Horn, Fred Shapiro, and Laurence
[End acknowledgement excerpt]

Feedback welcome
Garson O'Toole

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

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