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Every now and then I am reminded of this:

English: great minds think alike.
German: Zwei Dumme, ein Gedanke (roughly: two idiots, one thought)

What I find fascinating here is that it embodies two completely opposing views on a kind of spontaneous consensus. The British mindset apparently sees it as a suggestion that there is something to it, while the German reacts with suspicion.

The matter is complicated -and simplified - by the fact that both expressions are often used to describe the ...

... speaker.

In the German form, calling you and other people with the same idea stupid is self-depreciating, but tends to be laughed off and one moves ahead with the idea anyway. If the phrase is applied to other people, however, it's taken more seriously.

In English, self-deprecation is a far more common form of communication than German, so clapping yourself on the shoulder by applying the phrase to yourself almost has to be taken with a good dose of irony.

In that sense, the ...

... expressions are much more closely related than is immediately apparent.

However, on the face of it, there is a fundamental difference.

In the somewhat humorous pop-science book Watching the English, social anthropologist Kate Fox compares British politeness and restraint with that in Japanese culture, and speculates that the relative confines of both Island nation boundaries have led to a kind of habitual self-deprecation, as a prevention mechanism for open conflict.

It's way outside my area of expertise to comment on that seriously.

But it might explain why the English expression on the surface lauds the consensus, while the German is more obviously offensive.

I'll leave that up to you to decide.

All I really wanted to remark on is how different the expressions are. And look at me go, four toots down and nothing much learned 😂

I better stop while I'm ahead.

@jens The Norwegian version would be "To sjeler en tanke, to rasshøl én planke"

or "Zwei Seelen, eine gedanke, zwei Arschlöcher ein Brett" which probably dates back to the times before water closets, and probably is more like people that are close together (e.g using the same toilet) usually think alike, and with the added implication that we can all be assholes some times :p

@sotolf
huh, that's interesting. In #Dutch we also have "twee zielen, een gedachte" (two souls, one thought), but I was unable to find a reference to the second part (two assholes, one plank?) ever being used. I guess when the proverb was adopted to Dutch, they/we never bothered to translate the second part. I at least wasn't aware there originally was a counterpart.
@jens

@FiXato @jens It might also be that we took it from Dutch through the Hansa thing and added the second part, I don't know :)

@FiXato @sotolf @jens literally the same in Danish: “To sjæle, en tanke” (two souls, one thought).

@sotolf @jens Thank you for rasshøl - Duolingo never taught me that, for some reason.

@jens It's worth saying that the traditional reply to "great minds think alike" is "...and fools seldom differ."

@y6nH Yes, @mhd mentioned that. I rarely heard it, but it's quite possible that is more indicative of who I hung out with.

@jens I think the interesting thing here is like with many of the idioms, not all of it gets said all the time, so often part will get forgotten some generations down. The version I know in English is "great minds think alike, fools thoughts never differ." Which in itself specifically encourages the "move on" thing because it implies that it's either genius or stupidity to do so.

@jens An expression I've used often in English in such circumstances is "two bodies, one brain". On the surface it looks like it's praise. Brief thought, however, indicates that I'm saying we're both half-wits.

Dad's influence is pretty obvious. :D

@jens Isn't the full quote "Great minds think alike, but fools seldom differ", mirroring the German variation? Never mind the consonance between "*d*umme/*d*deppen" and "ge*d*anke".

@jens I've heard it occasionally as a counterpoint. On the other hand, I often just hear "Great minds...", too, so I'm not sure what it expands to in the average listeners mind.

Do you have any further examples, because if I were to guess whether Brits or Germans are better in self-depreciation, I wouldn't vote continental.

The origins are also interesting. The German one was originaly "two souls", whereas the English one originated from a French author.

@jens The English idiom compliments the other, the German idiom deprecates the self.

@Sandra The German also deprecates the other. But less so, because it's inclusive. We're both in the same dummy boat.

@jens couldn't help trying to look into this one. A lot of people on the net seems to think the full English saying is "great minds think alike, fools seldom differ", though this seems to be on shaky ground.

Also found that an older form of the saying is "great wits jump", which I will try to use more from now on. I must actually have read it before in TLaOo Tristram Shandy, but must have skimmed that part … (you kind of have to with that book to ever get through it)

@jens
In french we say "les grands esprits se rencontrent" which could be translated like "great minds meet together".
As you can see its very close to the english one especially cause its used nearly every time with irony.
It could shaken your theory about island nations ;)

@Meandres Eh, I don't have my heart set on that theory - it was just a thought!

@Meandres @jens the interesting part is that in french, like in english, the full saying is actually longer: "les grands esprits se rencontrent, les petits le remarquent", great minds will meet and small ones will talk about it: two persons will agree on something, say the first part of the saying, and someone who disagrees with them (or just want to take them down a peg) will add the rest of the saying, implying that they're really not as clever as they think...

@sergeisilence @Meandres That is fantastic!

Which is then different, but let's say spiritually related to the other English expression: those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.

Now what's fascinating about *that* to me is that the German expression that conveys much the same idea is built completely around the rhyme: Wer nichts wird, wird Wirt - those who don't grow/develop become barkeeps/waiters.

The idea is the same, though, that there's a kind of dead end to personal development.

@jens it's interesting that both seem to go back to the same greek proverb, which had both sides: "Great minds think alike, though fools seldom differ" (mystudentvoices.com/4-quotes-t ).

Of course, that one doesn't appear at first glance to contain the element of self-deprecation that the German saying does, and it's still relevant that there was a split in which half of the saying made it into each is the present-day idioms.

Last boost from @jens: interesting idiom thread, comments are worth a read too

@jens But there is also "Low minds sink to the same level" :-)

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