A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 16, 2012
“An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less”

"An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less” (also, “A specialist is one who knows more and more about less and less") is a saying that became popular in 1926. The saying was credited to William J. Mayo (1861-1939), a doctor in Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic, by The Reader’s Digest in 1927; Charles H. Mayo (1865-1939), his brother and also a doctor in the Mayo Clinic, has also been credited. Nicholas Murray Butler (1862-1947), the president of Columbia University, has frequently received credit since 1939.

The ending “...until he knows everything about nothing” has been cited in print since at least 1928. This definition of an “expert/specialist” has been popularly used in both science and business.


Murphy’s Laws Site
Murphy’s technology laws
An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing.

11 June 1926, The Evening Repository (Canton, OH), “Pull Down Partitions” by Dr. Rene Sand, pg. 4, col. 2:
The expert who concentrates on a limited field is useful, but if he loses sight of the interdependence of things he becomes a man who knows more and more about less and less. Of course we do not prefer the other extreme, the superficial person who every day knows less and less about more and more.

29 July 1926, Boston (MA) Daily Globe, “Groups Roosevelt, Caesar and Eliot: Dr Bingham Finds Striking Similarity Wilson’s Personality Like Those of Plato and Hamlet,” pg. 7:
A specialist may be defined as one who grows to know more and more about less and less.
(Dr. Walter B. Bingham of the Personal Research Federation of New York—ed.)

12 August 1926, New York (NY) Times, “Belshazzar and the Expert,” pg. 18:
Definitions of an expert, current in after-dinner speeches, as “one who knows more and more about less and less” or as “one who doesn’t know anything else,” will not relieve us of the need of those who really do know everything that is known about something.

Google Books
December 1926, The Ark (Ann Arbor, MI), pg. 6, col. 1:
A Specialist is one who knows more and more about less and less.

Google Books
The Reader’s Digest
Volume 6
1927
Pg. 406:
Dr. William J. Mayo, of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.: “A specialist is a man who knows more and more about less and less.”

24 June 1927, Chester (PA) Times, “Topics of Times,” pg. 1, col. 8:
Observing Oswald says an expert is one who knows more and more about less and less.

25 October 1927, Syracuse (NY) Herald, “Doctor Scoffs at Alcohol, Tobacco, Microbe Pedantry in Physiology Text Books,” pg. 2, col. 3:
He dynamites a lot of long words out of the render’s pathway and in effect endorses Dr. Mayo’s remark that a specialist is a man who knows more and more about less and less.

9 April 1928, Oregonian (Portland, OR), “Savant outlines his ideas of science and philosophy,” pg. 20, col. 3:
“Some people regard the first of these as referring to one who knows a great deal about a very little and he keeps on knowing more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing. Then he is a scientist.”
(Dr. Robert E. Swain, head of the department of chemistry at Stanford University—ed.)

Google News Archive
14 June 1928, St. Petersburg (FL) Times, “Fisheries Men Elect Dieter, Boost Hodges,” pg. 1, col. 4:
Mr. Leasure (Associate editor of Nation’s Business—ed.) took as the theme of his address, “The Business of Getting Together.” Characterizing an expert as one who “knows more and more about less and less,” he explained that he was not before the association as an expert.

Google News Archive
3 March 1930, Ottawa (Ontario) Citizen, “For Your Boy and Your Girl” by Arthur Dean, pg. 19, col. 1:
... an idea which admirably fits the definition of an expert given by Dr. Charles Mayo of Rochester, Minnesota: “One who knows more and more about less and less, and less and less about more and more.”

Google News Archive
29 April 1939, Vancouver Sun, “"What Is Your Opinion?.” pg. 13, col. 1:
These two “experts” have amply justified the statement of Nicholas Murray Butler that “an expert is one who knows more and more about less and less.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWork/Businesses • (0) Comments • Monday, January 16, 2012 • Permalink