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 November 26, 2010
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people”

"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people” is a popular saying, first cited in this form in 1931. The saying has been attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), but it’s uncertain if she ever said it. The saying has also been attributed to Admiral Hyman G. Rickover (1900-1986), but he admitted in a 1959 magazine article that the saying wasn’t his.

The Quote Investigator found that a version of the saying attributed to historian Henry Thomas Buckle (1821-1862) in 1901:

“Buckle said, in his dogmatic way: ‘Men and women range themselves into three classes or orders of intelligence; you can tell the lowest class by their habit of always talking about persons; the next by the fact that their habit is always to converse about things; the highest by their preference for the discussion of ideas.’”

“Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine,” wrote New York-based author and humorist Fran Lebowitz in 1977.


Wikipedia: Henry Thomas Buckle
Henry Thomas Buckle (24 November 1821 – 29 May 1862) was an English historian, author of a History of Civilization.

Wikiquote: Eleanor Roosevelt
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (11 October 1884 – 7 November 1962) was a social activist, first lady and the wife of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
(...)
Disputed
Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.
This has been quoted without citation as a statement of Eleanor Roosevelt. It is usually attributed to Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, but though Rickover quoted this, he did not claim to be the author of it; in “The World of the Uneducated” in The Saturday Evening Post (28 November 1959), he prefaces it with “As the unknown sage puts it...”
. Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and little minds discuss people.
.. In this form it was quoted as an anonymous epigram in A Guide to Effective Public Speaking (1953) by Lawrence Henry Mouat
. Several other variants or derivatives of the expression exist, but none provide a definite author:
.. Great minds discuss ideas, mediocre minds discuss events, small minds discuss personalities.
.. Great minds discuss ideas, Average minds discuss events, Small minds discuss people
.. Small minds discuss things, Average minds discuss people, Great minds discuss ideas

Wikiquote: Hyman G. Rickover
Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, U.S. Navy, (27 January 1900 – 8 July 1986) was known as the “Father of the Nuclear Navy”.
(...)
Misattributed
Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.
. Though Rickover quoted this, he did not claim to be the author of the statement. Using it in “The World of the Uneducated” in The Saturday Evening Post (28 November 1959), he prefaces it with “As the unknown sage puts it...” — It has sometimes been attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, but without definite citation.

Google Books
Haud immemor. Reminiscences of legal and social life in Edinburgh and London, 1850-1900
By Charles Stewart
Edinburgh and London: W. Blackwood & sons
1901
Pg. 33:
Buckle said, in his dogmatic way: “Men and women range themselves into three classes or orders of intelligence; you can tell the lowest class by their habit of always talking about persons; the next by the fact that their habit is always to converse about things; the highest by their preference for the discussion of ideas.”

Google Books
Conversation:
What to say and how to say it

By Mary Greer Conklin
New York, NY: Funk & Wagnalls Company
1912
Pg. 179:
Given conversation which is marked by conformity to all its unwritten precepts, “Men and women then range themselves,” says Henry Thomas Buckle, “into three classes or orders of intelligence. You can tell the lowest class by their habit of talking about nothing else but persons; the next by the fact that their habit is always to talk about things; the highest by their preference for the discussion of ideas.”

Google Books
Salesmanship:
Theory and Practice

By Thomas Herbert Russell
New York, NY: National Institute of Business
1912
Pg. 24:
it has been said, and with some truth, that most persons fall into one of three classes: first-class people, who meditate upon and discuss ideas; second-class people, who talk about persons; and third-class people, whose talk is of things. In this category the gossip and the backbiter occupy undeserved second-class position.

Google Books
Printers’ Ink
Volume 139, Issue 2
1927
Pg. 87:
He now reports that, “the best minds discuss ideas; the second ranking talks about things; while the third and lowest mentality — starved for ideas — gossips about people.”

11 May 1928, Danville (VA) Bee, “Scoop’s Colyum,” pg. 6, col. 4:
The best minds discuss IDEAS; the second ranking talks about THINGS; while those of the lowest mentality GOSSIP about PEOPLE.

19 April 1931, New York (NY) Times, “Queries and Answers,” pg. 75:
“Great and Small Minds”
H. A. M.—Wanted, the correct quotation and origin of this expression: “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”

19 May 1934, Lubbock (TX) Morning Avalanche, “From The Woman’s Angle” by Margaret Turner, pg. 2, col. 1:
SIGN in a beauty parlor: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

18 January 1936, Cleveland (OH) Gazette, “Wise Sayings,” pg. 1:
As great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people!

2 March 1936, Altoona (PA) Mirror, “Phalanx Members Hear C. C. Caveny,” pg. 5, col. 3:
“Small minds talk about people and ordinary minds about things, but great minds talk about ideas,” he said.

Google Books
Your Voice Personality
By Loraine Osborn
New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
1938
Pg. 132:
There is an old saying:
SMALL MINDS DISCUSS PEOPLE.
AVERAGE MINDS DISCUSS EVENTS.
GREAT MINDS DISCUSS IDEAS.

8 October 1939, Trenton (NJ) Sunday Times-Advertiser, “Trenton Scout Trail,” pt. 4, pg. 5, col. 1:
Scout Thought
Great minds talk about ideas
Average minds talk about events
Small minds talk about people
And boys talk about themselves.

Google Books
January 1946, The Rotarian, pg. 60, col. 2:
That was soon followed by this motto on the desk of the superintendent at Breckenridge, Texas:
Great minds discuss ideas.
Average minds discuss events,
Little minds discuss people.


Newsweek (May 26, 2010)
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” —Eleanor Roosevelt

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Friday, November 26, 2010 • Permalink