Learn English – the origin of the phrase “great minds think alike”


Upon using the phrase "great minds think alike" in chat today, I was informed that it is really a shortened version of "Great minds think alike, small minds rarely differ" or "Great minds think alike, and fools seldom differ." (Source) This longer phrase would seem to suggest the original meaning was a bit different than the current usage.

However, doing some research, I found this website which traces it back to 1618 in the form of "Good wits doe jumpe" (jumpe having an archaic meaning of coincide) attributed to Dabridgcourt Belchier. Elsewhere, I found an unsourced claim that the thought originated with Confucius.

What is the true origin of this saying/idea?

Best Answer

Great minds think alike:

  • This is a humorous expression that is used when you found out someone else was thinking about the same thing as you were. If you say, "Great minds think alike," you say, jokingly, that you and someone else must be very intelligent or great because both of you thought of the same thing or agree on something.

  • The earliest instance of the proverb in its present form seems be from 1898:-

    • "Curious how great minds think alike. My pupil wrote me the same explanation about his non-appearance." (1898 C. G. Robertson Voces Academicae)

According to "A Dictionary of Catch Phrases" by Eric Partridge, the expression "great minds think alike " does not appear to have a specific origin:

  • The saying does not appear in the dictionaries of quotations, nor in those of proverbs. It seems to have aside c. 1890 or perhaps a decade earlier.....

  • Any remark , especially a trivial one, that could be answered by" I happened to think the same" could be capped with 'great minds think alike", a sentence that has become so embedded in ordinary everyday English that on 7 Oct.1973 one of london 'nationals' had an article entitled "Great Minds Think Unlike"

  • Unimpressed listeners to the great minds are sometimes apt to remark, 'and fools seldom differ':

Also according to Ngram the expression is from the late 19th century.

As suggested by the Phrase Finder, and by The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs it may derive from the older saying :

  • Good wits doe jumpe:

from Dabridgcourt Belchier who wrote this in Hans Beer-Pot, 1618: