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  #1  
Old 08-31-2009, 12:11 PM
Walloon Walloon is offline
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Pointy-headed liberal

After reading once again the cliché of "pointy-headed liberals", I have to ask: What does that mean? Why would a liberal's head be pointy?
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  #2  
Old 08-31-2009, 12:12 PM
muttrox muttrox is offline
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Pointy-headed means intellectual. Not sure why. This plays off the stereotype of liberals as policy wonk robots, as Gore and Kerry were often percieved.
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  #3  
Old 08-31-2009, 12:16 PM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is online now
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I think it comes from, or at least was popularized by George Wallace. In his speeches, he fairly often referred to "pointy-headed intellectuals who can't park their bicycles straight."
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  #4  
Old 08-31-2009, 12:22 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is online now
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Was Oblio a liberal?

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067595/



How about Zippy the Pinhead?



Seriously, I suspect that "pointy-headed" is intended to imply that one is like a pinhead -- definitely not a compliment. And these days, not PC.
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  #5  
Old 08-31-2009, 12:24 PM
Freudian Slit Freudian Slit is online now
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I thought it was a dunce cap reference.
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  #6  
Old 08-31-2009, 12:26 PM
muttrox muttrox is offline
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It definitely means intellectual. The origin seems to fit well with the George Wallace theory also.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pointy-head

* Main Entry: pointy–head
* Pronunciation: \ˈpȯin-tē-ˌhed\
* Function: noun
* Date: 1968

usually disparaging : intellectual

— pointy–head·ed \-ˌhe-dəd\ adjective



http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pointy-head
–adjective Slang: Disparaging.
1. stupid; idiotic.
2. intellectual, esp. in a self-important or impractical way.
Origin:
1970–75, Americanism
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  #7  
Old 08-31-2009, 12:33 PM
Simplicio Simplicio is offline
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Originally Posted by CalMeacham View Post
Seriously, I suspect that "pointy-headed" is intended to imply that one is like a pinhead -- definitely not a compliment. And these days, not PC.
A pin-head is an idiot, and so the insult makes sense. Small head==stupid. It's a lot less obvious how "pointy headed" is supposed to mean a pushy intellectual.
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  #8  
Old 08-31-2009, 12:34 PM
Walloon Walloon is offline
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Wouldn't an intellectual be the last person to have a pointy head? The "egg-head" stereotype for intellectuals seems more like it.
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  #9  
Old 08-31-2009, 12:37 PM
Superfluous Parentheses Superfluous Parentheses is offline
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Originally Posted by Walloon View Post
Wouldn't an intellectual be the last person to have a pointy head? The "egg-head" stereotype for intellectuals seems more like it.
So you're one of those "pointy-end-down" people, huh?
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  #10  
Old 08-31-2009, 12:38 PM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Simplicio View Post
A pin-head is an idiot, and so the insult makes sense. Small head==stupid. It's a lot less obvious how "pointy headed" is supposed to mean a pushy intellectual.
Because, as Wallace was referring to it, these were "intellectuals" from Harvard or some school like that, or government bureaucrats in Washington, who could write 500 page papers on how to solve the race problem, or the crime problem, or the unemployment problem, or whatever, but weren't even able to park a bicycle straight. They are idiots, but they're idiots with advanced degrees who everybody thinks are smart.

Last edited by Captain Amazing; 08-31-2009 at 12:39 PM..
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  #11  
Old 08-31-2009, 12:44 PM
Bayard Bayard is offline
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A Google Books search turns up "pointy headed"in the May, 1960 Baseball Digest. There, it seems to refer to geeks who hang around ballparks asking for autographs game after game.

Google Books doesn't turn up much between that and 1968 or so, when the Wallace usage starts getting mentioned. It might be unrelated. Or maybe there was a sports-related use (meaning something like "dork") that Wallace helped to cross over to everyday use.
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  #12  
Old 08-31-2009, 01:18 PM
Simplicio Simplicio is offline
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Originally Posted by Captain Amazing View Post
Because, as Wallace was referring to it, these were "intellectuals" from Harvard or some school like that, or government bureaucrats in Washington, who could write 500 page papers on how to solve the race problem, or the crime problem, or the unemployment problem, or whatever, but weren't even able to park a bicycle straight. They are idiots, but they're idiots with advanced degrees who everybody thinks are smart.
Maybe, that still seems to be a different animal then a "pin-head" though. Plus I always though a "pin-head" had a head that was the normal shape, but really small, like the small round piece of plastic on the non-pointy end of a pin. So I'm kinda skeptical that's the origin of the phrase.

Anyone know if Will Safire's columns are online somewhere. He writes about political phrases and was a conservative speech writer at around the same time the phrase was in peak use.
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  #13  
Old 08-31-2009, 01:35 PM
Freddy the Pig Freddy the Pig is offline
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Points were associated with sharp pencils, the hallmark of the pre-computerized geek.
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  #14  
Old 08-31-2009, 01:44 PM
Simplicio Simplicio is offline
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Ah, I think I'm getting closer. Scientists at Los Alamos during the original Manhatten project and up to the present were apparenlty called "coneheads" by the non-Sciencey personnel at the labs. Conehead apparently had pretty much the exact same meaning as being "pointy headed", I bet that's the origin of refering to intellectual types with their heads in the clouds as being pointy headed.

Of course, it also just kicks the question down the road: why were Los Alamos Scientists called "coneheads"?
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  #15  
Old 08-31-2009, 01:48 PM
cmkeller cmkeller is offline
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Of course, it also just kicks the question down the road: why were Los Alamos Scientists called "coneheads"?
WAG - they were obsessed with building a device that would fit in the nose cone of a missile?
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  #16  
Old 08-31-2009, 01:59 PM
Simplicio Simplicio is offline
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Actually, I'm not so certain calling a Los-Alamos scientist a "conehead" goes back as far as I said in the earlier post. I thought I'd read about the term being used during the original bomb program, but I can't find a cite. I'll look around some more later.

The term is certainly in use now, but that might just be from the SNL sketch or it might have been inspired by the pointy-headed phrase, rather then the other way around.
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  #17  
Old 08-31-2009, 02:00 PM
Voyager Voyager is offline
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Originally Posted by cmkeller View Post
WAG - they were obsessed with building a device that would fit in the nose cone of a missile?
Not in Los Alamos they weren't.

The first time I heard this was from Wallace, but I wouldn't be surprised if he modified egghead, which was used in politics to refer to Adlai Stevenson when he ran for president.
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  #18  
Old 08-31-2009, 03:59 PM
Bayard Bayard is offline
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I found the phrase in a Time movie review from 1961. The review pans the Pat Boone movie All Hands on Deck, apparently a farce set in the Navy. The review refers to one character as the "pointy-headed" captain of the ship, who spends his days fishing but never catches anything other than a bra. I take it that the captain either had a physically pointy head (although the actor who played him, Dennis O'Keefe looks pretty non-pointy to me) or "pointy-headed" meant something like "ineffectual" or "useless" to the reviewer.

Another Time article from 1962 refers to helmetted skiers looking like "pointy-headed space people", but that appears to be a purely physical description.

So, I'm still leaning toward the idea tha Wallace helped shift the usage from "dorky" or "useless" to "dorky and useless intellectual".

Last edited by Bayard; 08-31-2009 at 04:01 PM..
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  #19  
Old 08-31-2009, 05:51 PM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is online now
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I'm thinking it comes from pinhead, and that Captain Amazing has it right.
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  #20  
Old 08-31-2009, 08:41 PM
samclem samclem is online now
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The OED's take on it.

pointy-head noun and adj.
Quote:
n.

1. depreciative. A person with mental retardation; a stupid person, a moron.

1946 Nashua (New Hampsh.) Tel. 16 Dec. 11/1 ‘What is ita cat?’ I asked. ‘Nope,’ he said.., ‘a Zip.’..I saw a little pin-headed freak... Those pygmies with heads like inverted ice cream cones used to be popular sideshow attractions... I suggested he get rid of the pointy-head. 1963 Winnipeg Free Press 12 Jan. 6/2 You'll find him among the intellectuals and you'll find him with the pointy-heads. 1973 J. DI MONA Last Man at Arlington (1974) 178 Idiots... Pointy heads that didn't know how to operate.

2. A supposed expert or intellectual, esp. one who is out of touch with practical matters.

1969 Playboy Dec. 230 There are pointy-heads who prefer Joseph Conrad or William Faulkner. 1972 Times 5 May 6/3 Mr Wallace..dismissed it quickly at the end of his address as ‘the most callous, asinine, stupid thing that was ever conceived by some pointy-head in Washington DC’. 1990 W. SHEED Essays in Disguise II. xi. 151 Nixon was simply taking a last swipe at the pointy heads by sneering, like a school kid, at their prissy accents. 1993 R. LIMBAUGH See, I told you So xi. 133 You have to assume that fuzzy-headed academicians, the sandal-clad theoreticians, and the nearsighted pointy-heads in this administration have never held jobs in the real world. 2001 N.Y. Times Mag. 11 Feb. 68/2 People, in short, do not behave like the pointy heads say they should.
B. adj. (attrib.). a. Stupid, idiotic. b. That is a pointy-head; having pretensions to superior expertise but without practical sense. c. Technically or academically sophisticated.

1960 Salisbury (Maryland) Times 14 May 6/5 They put the sons of fathers into office in the pointy-head illusion that they are voting for the fathers. 1968 Bucks County (Pa.) Courier Times 5 Aug. 5/6, I think we should take all those pointy-head intellectuals with briefcases and toss them into the Potomac River. 1972 Guardian 21 Feb. 2/4 George Wallace..attacked Muskie, Humphrey, and his other ‘pointy-head’ opponents. 2000 Daily Tel. 5 Dec. 34/2 The tool for measuring this is a pointy-head theory called discounted cash flow analysis, which also takes account of inflation.
And, as pointy-headed, adj.

Quote:
1. Having low intelligence; idiotic, stupid. Now rare.

1950 N.Y. Times Bk. Rev. 4 June 14/2 His successful defense of pointy-headed hoodlums with pathological trigger fingers. 1964 Salisbury (Maryland) Times 24 Apr. 6/2 Makes 'em look like pointy-headed adolescents with I.Q. minus.

2. Of, relating to, or characteristic of a ‘pointy-head’; intellectual, rarefied, abstruse.

1968 Science 25 Oct. 436/1 Hardly a day goes by that Wallace fails to speak of ‘pointy-headed professors who can't park their bicycles straight’. 1975 N.Y. Times 12 Nov. 42/2 Let the dust gather on the pointy-headed bureaucrats and all the other props from yesteryear. 1995 Minnesota Monthly Jan. 34/2 Upcoming courses range from the pointy-headed (‘Poetry and the Changing Nature of the Book and of Literacy’) to the practical..and the family-oriented. 2005 Tennessean (Nexis) 20 Apr. 1C, Anshel is no pointy-headed scholar who has never stepped outside the ivory tower of academia. He played college baseball.
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  #21  
Old 10-29-2010, 02:54 PM
docfeetz docfeetz is offline
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As I was donning my faculty regalia for graduation a few weeks ago where I teach, one of the other faculty members asked for help with his doctoral cap because it was crooked. It has four points and the way he had it tilted, it made him look pointy-headed. I joked with him that maybe that's where the term "pointy-headed intellectual" came from - professors wearing their academic caps with the points.
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  #22  
Old 10-29-2010, 04:11 PM
njtt njtt is offline
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Originally Posted by Walloon View Post
Wouldn't an intellectual be the last person to have a pointy head? The "egg-head" stereotype for intellectuals seems more like it.
Ah yes, but the insult is, inevitably, being used by those who are not intellectuals, and who are thus too dumb to understand this.

Seriously, it is a stupid insult, that makes no damn sense, used by stupid people.

As applied to liberals rather than specifically to intellectuals, it is even more stupid: it is basically saying ""I despise liberals because they are smarter than I am." As arguments against liberalism go, that is about as stupid as you could get.
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  #23  
Old 10-29-2010, 07:31 PM
Earl Snake-Hips Tucker Earl Snake-Hips Tucker is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Walloon View Post
Wouldn't an intellectual be the last person to have a pointy head? The "egg-head" stereotype for intellectuals seems more like it.
Well, that's kinda the nature of idioms. They don't mean the sum of the literal components.
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  #24  
Old 10-29-2010, 08:58 PM
Starving Artist Starving Artist is offline
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Originally Posted by njtt View Post
Ah yes, but the insult is, inevitably, being used by those who are not intellectuals, and who are thus too dumb to understand this.

Seriously, it is a stupid insult, that makes no damn sense, used by stupid people.

As applied to liberals rather than specifically to intellectuals, it is even more stupid: it is basically saying ""I despise liberals because they are smarter than I am." As arguments against liberalism go, that is about as stupid as you could get.
As Ronald Reagan once said, "The problem with our liberal friends isn't that they are ignorant; it's that they know so much that just isn't so."

And as William F. Buckley once said, "I'd sooner be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone directory than by the faculty of Harvard University."

Conservatives don't think ill of liberals because they think liberals are genuinely smarter than they are. Trust me.

Last edited by Starving Artist; 10-29-2010 at 09:02 PM..
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  #25  
Old 10-29-2010, 09:03 PM
elucidator elucidator is offline
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The line is, of course, Mark Twain's. As a wit, Reagan was both good and originial. Unfortunately, what was original wasn't good, and what was good wasn't original.
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  #26  
Old 10-29-2010, 09:14 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is online now
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I always assumed that "pointy-headed" was just a derivation of "egg-headed" - both associated bald-headedness with being a liberal intellectual (with the point being your head supposedly rising above your hair). Being as the terms seem to originate in the early sixties, I assume the association was based on Adlai Stevenson, who was a famous bald-headed liberal intellectual in that period.
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  #27  
Old 10-29-2010, 09:38 PM
njtt njtt is offline
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Originally Posted by Starving Artist View Post
Conservatives don't think ill of liberals because they think liberals are genuinely smarter than they are. Trust me.
I am sure that is not the only reason why conservatives think ill of liberals, or the main one, or any sort of reason why smart conservative intellectuals (yes I believe they exist), or even you, think, ill of liberals, but conservatives (or any people, actually) who use this ridiculous insult are both displaying and reveling in their own dumbness (or else they are pandering to the dumber amongst their potential supporters).
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  #28  
Old 10-29-2010, 09:46 PM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is online now
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Is it too late to change my answer? More than an year later, I don't remember if I was serious, or if I was joking.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
I always assumed that "pointy-headed" was just a derivation of "egg-headed" - both associated bald-headedness with being a liberal intellectual (with the point being your head supposedly rising above your hair). Being as the terms seem to originate in the early sixties, I assume the association was based on Adlai Stevenson, who was a famous bald-headed liberal intellectual in that period.
The last time I gave the question any thought, I thought the same thing as Little Nemo.
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  #29  
Old 10-30-2010, 12:35 AM
Wile E Wile E is offline
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Originally Posted by Simplicio View Post
...

Of course, it also just kicks the question down the road: why were Los Alamos Scientists called "coneheads"?
They were from France.
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  #30  
Old 10-30-2010, 04:20 AM
Colophon Colophon is offline
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Originally Posted by samclem View Post
The OED's take on it...
So it means either intellectual, or dumb. That just about covers it.
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