“Enquiring minds want to know” – Meaning and Origin

Have you ever heard the phrase “Enquiring minds want to know”. Chances are that those of you under 30 will say “no”, and those older than 30 will say “I think I’ve heard it somewhere before”.

This phrase isn’t really one with a hidden meaning, but it is one with hidden problems such as it’s tautological nature which we’ll be looking at in this article.

Furthermore, it is a common misspelling. “Inquiring minds want to know” is actually spelled “Enquiring minds want to know. It doesn’t actually mean anything at all, besides from “a mind that wants to know wants to know”.

The purpose of me writing this is to try and figure how true it is, how inspirational it is, and why it hasn’t caught on.

It started off as an ad slogan, but hasn’t really grown since then. Here’s why….

What does it mean?

To enquire about something is to try and find out some information that you want to know. When you go into an expensive shop, you might want to enquire about the prices before you buy anything.

You might be annoyed with your council and make an inquiry about when the next bin collections are going to be.

If you have an enquiring mind, that means you’re the sort of person who loves learning, and often wants to find out the answers to life’s questions. This relates to the contemporary questions such as “What will happen with Corona Virus” or the big questions such as “What is right and wrong”. 

Origin

So who came up with the phrase?

Was it a great philosopher such as Plato or Descartes?

Was it a scientist like Einstein or Hawkins?

Perhaps it was a peace leader such as Gandhi or Martin Luther King?

Well I’m afraid not.

It was actually created in the 1980s as a slogan for the American tabloid “The National Enquirer”.

The National Enquirer is a newspaper that covers news from a right wing perspective. But as well as covering politics, it also does celebrity gossip and trivial stories.

The Issue

The issue with the slogan is that it’s a tautology. An argument that just goes round in a circle.

To have an enquiring mind means to be someone who wants to know about events.

Therefore this sentence is essentially saying “people who want to know, want to know”.

This doesn’t give us any new information, or make us think differently about the world.

It’s as like if I were to say “Tall people possess more height”.

Whilst it might present itself as an inspirational quote, it is infact nothing more than a well phrased dictionary definition.

The Issue isn’t an issue.

But from a business perspective. The fact it’s not inspiring doesn’t matter. The fact it sounds inspiring is.

The point of the slogan isn’t to make people think more critically about the world, or to cause people to become interested in topics they weren’t in the past. The point of the slogan is quite simply to sell newspapers.

People will hear that phrase and assume that the National Enquirer is an intellectual paper and reading it will make them more intelligent than those who don’t.

It’s faux inspirational to trick people into think they’re a thought provoking paper, and not just a tabloid.

Great minds vs Enquiring Minds

You might have noticed that “Enquiring minds want to know” bears some resemblance to another quote. Einstein’s “Great minds think alike”.

What is the difference between a great mind and an enquiring mind?

This is of course something we could dedicate an entire article to. But I think a good general consensus can be that a ‘great mind’ is a mind with lots of stuff in it.

When I say ‘stuff’, perhaps I mean knowledge, perhaps wisdom, perhaps talent.

But the key difference is that a great mind has lots in it, an enquiring mind wants to have lots in.

The benefits of an Enquiring mind

That’s not to say that having an enquiring mind is a bad thing. And it’s certainly not to say that a great mind can’t always be an enquiring mind.

To have an enquiring mind means that you want to expand your knowledge, and you want to learn about the world around you. You want to get to the bottom of the issues that are constantly bugging you.

People who are eager to learn are often happier and more fulfilled than those who think they already know all there is to know.

Enquire vs Inquire

There is another word in the English language that sounds very similar to enquire.

That word is inquire.

Whilst these two words are similar in the fact that they relate to wanting to know. An enquiry is simply a question.

On the other hand, an inquiry is a formal investigation. 

But having said that, it has not become uncommon for people to use to term inquire when they actually mean enquire.

In the phrase “enquiring minds want to know” it’s probably for the best that they don’t use inquiring minds, I’m sure that most people don’t want to carry out an CIA investigation over what Donald Trump has tweeted.

Why it hasn’t caught on

The main reason why it hasn’t caught on is probably because there is no context in which it can be used, outside of trying to sell you something.

I personally cannot think of a single situation in my life where I think “I could have used that phrase then”.

But of course I couldn’t. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s circular nature means that it won’t even add anything to any conversation. It’s like if I were to say “Being British means I was born in Britain”.

Whilst it might have worked as an advertising slogan, I very much doubt this phrase is going to be finding it’s way into our regular vocabulary anytime soon.

Conclusion

“Enquiring minds want to know” might sound like something deep and meaningful. But in reality, it’s just a newspaper’s slogan from the 1980s.

It doesn’t actually mean anything at all, besides from “a mind that wants to know wants to know”. However, it’s lack of meaning does not mean lack of purpose. It’s purpose was to sell more newspapers, a purpose that it served well.

It probably won’t be catching on, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ask ourselves why.