Any intelligent human being

The story of The Best reminded me of a classmate from school who was inordinately fond of the phrase any intelligent human being. For example, our classmate would say, "Any intelligent human being would do X" or "It's obvious to any intelligent human being that Y." (I often—but not always—consider myself to be an intelligent human being, yet sometimes the things "any intelligent human being" would do were things I personally wouldn't.) On the other hand, you wouldn't hear our classmate use the phrase in sentences like "I cannot comprehend how any intelligent human being would be fooled by Z."

Eventually, one of my friends determined that the phrase any intelligent human being was our classmate's replacement for the first person singular pronoun. By "It is obvious to any intelligent human being that Y," our classmate really meant "It is obvious to me that Y."

Thenceforth, we referred to our classmate as Any Intelligent Human Being (or AIHB for short, and capitalized since it's now a proper noun). Example: "I saw Any Intelligent Human Being in the cafeteria yesterday."

Comments (20)
  1. Such qualifiers as "obviously", "it goes without saying", "naturally" etc. always make me perk up my ears to catch the logic error that usually follows.

    Intensifying "obvious" with the "to any intelligent human being" just makes it worse.  To me this just suggests that the speaker has no real support for the point they're about to posit, and is relying on brute intimidation tactics.

    Cf: The Emperor's New Clothes.

  2. Kyle says:

    Unfortunately I used to use words like "obviously", but that just got me labeled as intellectually haughty and unintentionally pissed people off.  Even if what I was saying was actually obvious, it never pays to use such words.

  3. Joshua Ganes says:

    @Kyle – I agree. I occasionally catch myself using these types of phrases and have to correct course. I find that these types of phrases can serve two purposes, to boost the ego of the speaker, or to preemptively lock out and mock any protests against a particular statement. These are not things you want to do if you are seeking an enlightened and open debate.

  4. AHB says:

    I seem to recall, probably from Fowler, not from Gibbon, that one of Gibbon's favorite gambits was "as any schoolboy knows." But that probably sounds less impressive when uttered among schoolboys. (Obviously.)

  5. Gabe says:

    What does "probably from Fowler, not from Gibbon" mean? Is it supposed to be obvious who these people are?

  6. Joshua says:

    One would think people with science degrees would be intelligent enough to know that four gallons of methanol in a 55-gallon drum does not yield a rocket.

  7. ATZ Man says:

    Fowler: Author of "A Dictionary of Modern English Usage".

    Gibbon: Author of "The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire".

    Any schoolboy recognizes these titles.

  8. D-Coder says:

    Similarly, in any organization, the word "We" (as in "We should do X") is actually the first person self-exclusive plural, actually meaning "Anyone but me." See…/uxi.html.

  9. EMB says:

    @ATZ Man

    any schoolboy, but not any intelligent human being… :D

  10. Larry Hosken says:

    From now on, please address me as "The Casual Observer."  It would even be appropriate most of the time.

  11. Erzengel says:

    Off the core topic, but was "AIHB" pronounced "Ahab", a'la Moby Dick?

  12. Neil says:

    In #225 of "What is the name of this book?", Raymond Smullyan records the following explanation of the meaning of the word "obvious" when used by different members of the Princeton mathematics department, although the original explanation used names, not letters.

    When Professor A. says something is obvious, it means that if you go home and think about if for a couple of weeks, you will realise that it is true.

    When Professor L. says something is obvious, it means that if you go home and think about it for the rest of your life, the day might come when you will see that it is true.

    When Professor C. says something is obvious, it means that the class has already known it for the last two weeks.

    When Professor F. says something is obvious, it means that it is probably false.

  13. Gechurch says:

    I can't stand it when people use this phrase ("any intelligent human being…"). It such a defensive and negative comment, as it implies that if you don't agree with what the speaker says next then you are an idiot.

  14. Anonymous says:

    An old math teacher of mine used to say "Even blind Freddy could see that …".

  15. Cheong says:

    @Gechurch: It seems to me that the degree of "intellegent" can vary from one to another. It sounds quite reasonable to have his/her defination of "intellegent human being" the same of your defination of "average people" or even "idiot". :P

    Note: When people are using overly subjective arguments, it's usually vulnerable to attacks from "I have a different perspective" side.

  16. Yawar says:

    Ha, ha. Sounds like Economic Man (also known as Rational Man):…/economic-man-1

  17. d'Glenn says:

    An ex-coworker and I used to be fond of the phrase "obvious to the most casual observer".  Eventually we decided on our own that one of us must be "the most casual observer".  Alas, I've forgotten whether we decided it was him, or me, but for a while one of us referred to the other as "TMCO".

  18. Ben Voigt says:

    @Neil: Any schoolboy knows that the correct phrase in the first two cases would be "It is self-evident that …"  Obviously, Professors A and L need to be on the other side of the lectern for a while.

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