Nothing about everything

A few posts ago, talking about the way quotations are (mis-)attributed to people, I said:

Sometimes, an idea is stated in different ways before someone creates the most-quoted form of it, so it’s hard to say who should get the credit.

I have been thinking about the quotation, in probably its most familiar form:

A specialist knows more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing. A generalist knows less and less and more and more until he knows nothing about everything.

Quote Investigator traces the quotation from the first attested “We are getting to know more and more about less and less” (reported as the saying of “a distinguished Scotsman”) to various expanded forms. The exact originator depends on which exact form you use.

I am definitely a generalist. Although my blog posts are mostly about language(s) and (because I’ve most recently studied linguistics and been working as an ESL teacher and/or magazine or legal editor during this time), I’ve also posted about music (my first study), geography/travel/tourism, science/maths, history, bible study/theology and photography (my dabbles) (and probably more). If I had set out to be more general in my blog posts, I might have named it Nothing about everything. In fact, there are blogs with titles very close to that, and the Urban Dictionary has:

everything/nothing
a genre of blogs in which the content means everything to the author but nothing to most everyone else; often abbreviated as “e/n”

(I wouldn’t say that the content of this blog means everything to me, but obviously I put some time and effort into it.)

The main reason I’ve been thinking about this quotation recently is that I’ve had a burst on inquiring about PhD study (again), and one of the problems is that PhD study is expected to be specialised; maybe one particular aspect of one particular language. I’m just not interested in spending four to six years of my life doing that. Unfortunately, universities don’t seem to give PhDs in general studies. Universities expect me to know what I will find by my research. I thought the point of research is not knowing what I will find.

Realistically, this study is less likely to happen, but I need to find out for sure. I might be able to do the same research as an armchair scholar, but there’s less incentive, mostly because there would be less (if any) recognition at the end.

PS WIkipedia has a page about misquotations/misattributions.

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One thought on “Nothing about everything

  1. The Wikipedia page about misquotations/misattributions is fascinating. I’d like to add a couple more:

    The famous line from the Alka-Seltzer TV commercial is not “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing”, but “I can’t believe I ate that whole thing.” At least the way I heard it — and the phrase is repeated multiple times throughout each such ad.

    The tag line from the movie “Cool Hand Luke” is advertised as “What we have here is a failure to communicate”, but the actual spoken line (again, as I hear it) is “What we have here is failure to communicate.” The difference is subtle but significant, especially in the context of the scene in which the line is spoken: it’s an accusation rather than a lament.

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