Quote of the moment: Harlan Ellison, the two most common elements

October 19, 2012

Harlan Ellison, in Austin, Texas for SXSW 2008, Wired Magazine image

Harlan Ellison, in Austin, Texas for SXSW 2008, Wired Magazine image

The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.

Harlan Ellison, as noted by Wikiquote:

Introduction to Blast Off : Rockets, Robots, Ray Guns, and Rarities from the Golden Age of Space Toys (2001) by S. Mark Young, Steve Duin, Mike Richardson, p. 6; the quote on hydrogen and stupidity is said to have originated with an essay of his in the 1960s, and is often misattributed to Frank Zappa, who made similar remarks in The Real Frank Zappa Book (1989): “Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.”

For years I’ve found this quote attributed to Albert Einstein, occasionally to Frank Zappa, sometimes to Wolfgang Pauli, once to Richard Feynman, and to several other nuclear or particle physicists or cosmologists or astronomers.  I’ve tried to track it down without success that I considered close enough to wager on.  Recently someone mentioned that he thought he recalled it being said first by Harlan Ellison, and of course, that checks out.

How many other nuggets of Ellison’s wisdom and insightful humor get attributed to other sources?

Zappa probably read Ellison.  Einstein would have wished he’d said it, as would Feynman (who probably also read Ellison); but please remember to attribute it to Ellison next time you use it.  Please be sure to quote him accurately, with “elements,” and not “things.”

You may have plenty of cause to use that quote in the next few weeks.


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