nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people

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English[edit]

Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

Widely attributed to American author and social critic H. L. Mencken (1880–1956) but not found in his published works, so the source and original form of this expression are not known with certainty.[1]

Likely a paraphrase of: "No one in this world, so far as I know ... has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people."[2]

Proverb[edit]

nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people

  1. Americans, as a group, are not especially intelligent and can be readily entertained or fooled to produce financial benefit for someone.
    • 1988 April 23, "1988 OBIE Interview: Robert Anton Wilson," RAWilsonFans.org (retrieved 13 Sep 2015):
      Ed Wood was a backwards genius, he set out to make horror movies and he didn’t know how to do it. . . . Mencken said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” Well, Ed Wood did go broke by underestimating their intelligence.
    • 1992 Feb. 14, Janet Maslin, "Film: A Dim Duo In a Revel Of Stupidity" (review of Wayne's World), New York Times (retrieved 13 Sep 2015):
      H. L. Mencken may have noted that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people, but not even he could have anticipated this. Like Bill and Ted, their principal rivals among screen duos who play dumb, Wayne and Garth do their best to elevate stupidity to an art form.
    • 2010 Jan. 8, Terry Teachout, "Theater: Science Takes the Stag,", Wall Street Journal (retrieved 13 Sep 2015):
      It's noteworthy, by the way, that a pleasure dome like Palm Beach should also be the home of a drama troupe that not only specializes in shows like "Copenhagen" and "The Chairs" but performs them with flair. We have it on the best of authority that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people, but Palm Beach Dramaworks seems to be doing quite well for itself by operating on the opposite assumption.
    • 2014, Nathaniel S. Borenstein, Programming as If People Mattered, →ISBN, p. 70 (Google preview):
      Most advertising seems to be aimed at an extremely unintelligent audience, and yet seems effective in persuading most of us. But the software industry may, I suspect, provide a few exceptions to the old saying that “nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

Usage notes[edit]

  • In a common variant version of this proverb, the term taste is used instead of intelligence.

See also[edit]

References[edit]