great minds overthink alike

What does the saying “Great minds think alike” mean?

Great minds think alike literally means what it says on the tin. However, it is frequently used ironically, that is, when two ordinary minds have the same idea.

Where did the saying “Great minds think alike” come from?

As proverbs go, “great minds think alike” isn’t particularly old, but the idea behind it dates from at least the early 17th century. In Hans Beer-Pot, 1618, the impressively named Dabridgcourt Belchier penned the following:

Despite the fact that he created the verse, the words existed before. Good minds tend to leap.

In that citation, the word “jump” is used with the meaning “agree with; completely coincide,” which has long since been dropped from everyday speech. This use was repeated by Laurence Sterne in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, published in 1761:

Great minds leap: the exact identical thought crossed Dr. Slop’s mind as soon as he set eyes on his bag.

A while later, the “think alike” variant was discovered in print. The biography The woeful chronicle of the unhappy Eudoxia, by Carl Theodor von Unlanski, published in 1816, has the first instance I have come across.

It’s possible that an editor has already published something on the same topic – brilliant minds, you know.

Like many people today, Thomas Paine, an English-born revolutionary and one of the USA’s founding fathers, responded “No, they don’t” to the assertion that “great minds think alike.” In the political tract The Rights of Man, edition 2, he stated the following: great minds overthink alike

On so-called doctrinal questions, I don’t think any two men who think at all agree with each other. Only those who haven’t given it much thought seem to agree.

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