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?

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.

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.”

Was Oblio a liberal?

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.

I thought it was a dunce cap reference.

It definitely means intellectual. The origin seems to fit well with the George Wallace theory also.

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

usually disparaging : intellectual

— pointy–head·ed -ˌhe-dəd\ adjective

–adjective Slang: Disparaging.

  1. stupid; idiotic.
  2. intellectual, esp. in a self-important or impractical way.
    1970–75, Americanism

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.

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? :smiley:

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.

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.

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.

Points were associated with sharp pencils, the hallmark of the pre-computerized geek.

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”?

WAG - they were obsessed with building a device that would fit in the nose cone of a missile?

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.

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.

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’Keefelooks 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”.

I’m thinking it comes from pinhead, and that Captain Amazing has it right.

The OED’s take on it.

pointy-head noun and adj.

And, as pointy-headed, adj.