“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” can be a confusing phrase. After all, we are taught that knowledge is good and that learning is good, so why is a little knowledge ever dangerous? Sometimes I would link the phrase to Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden. That bit of knowledge they had between good and evil was dangerous. Before that, they were content to work in the garden for God.
Yet, why now, would a little knowledge be a dangerous thing. The phrase makes sense, especially when thinking about freelance writers. That bit of knowledge can be dangerous. There are plenty of writers who do thorough research and draw on their personal experiences to write articles.
However, there are other writers who simply look up a page or two of information and they think that makes them an expert on the subject.
It would be like me claiming to be Jewish and knowing Jewish traditions when I’m not Jewish. I’m Christian and I was raised as a Lutheran and like being part of the Lutheran tradition in which I was raised.
I can claim to be an “expert” on Lutheranism according to many websites definitions, but I actually always have much to learn.
So, now that it is easy to see how a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, where did the phrase originate?
It seems that the origin of the phrase was a group effort. The first known version is from Francis Bacon’s 1601 Essays of Atheism . In it, he doesn’t mention knowledge, but philosophy. Philosophy is what leads a man’s mind. He says that a little philosophy leads a man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy leads a man’s mind to religion.
The phrase is misquoted by an anonymous author in The mystery of phanaticism from 1698. The author signed the quotation A.B., but misquoted Bacon by saying “a little knowledge is aft to puff up.”
In 1709, Alexander Pope wrote An Essay on Criticism and included the line, “a little learning is a dangerous thing.”
This was misquoted by the writer of an article in The monthly miscellany; or Gentleman and Lady’s Complete Magazine, Vol II in 1774 who wrote that Pope wrote, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”
The version “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” is the more commonly used version, but “a little learning is a dangerous thing,” is also accepted.
Martin, G. (n.d.). A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The meanings and origins of sayings and phrases . Retrieved December 7, 2010, from http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/a-little-knowledge-is-a-dangerous-thing.html