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I read the phrase "USA intellectualism: a mile wide, an inch deep". What does it mean?

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closed as off topic by RegDwigнt Dec 14 '11 at 15:17

Questions on English Language & Usage Stack Exchange are expected to relate to English language and usage within the scope defined by the community. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about reopening questions here.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Welcome to EL&U; your question in its present form is off-topic (it is not about language, but about culture; and even that is in a problematic form of an over-generalization, probably, or maybe not, taken out of context). Can you please try to make it about language i.e. in short - what is the word/phrase that you don't understand (plus you need to show why dictionary did not help). – Unreason Dec 14 '11 at 15:02
It was a graffiti I saw in a picture on a google's results page 1 year ago. – quantme Dec 18 '11 at 7:02
up vote 6 down vote accepted

It doesn't matter whether it's intellectualism or something else, what you need to understand is the meaning of "depth" and "width" in the context of knowledge or expertise.

A depth of knowledge or understanding, is knowing all the fine detail and nuance of the subject.

A wide, or broad, knowledge, is knowing the basics, but on a wide range of subjects.

So, if I can write "hello world" in 100 programming languages, my knowledge is broad. If I can write a complex program in Java, my knowledge is deep.

If I can play "Jingle Bells" on any instrument, badly, my expertise is broad / wide. If I can play a difficult piece, beautifully, on guitar, my expertise is deep.

"USA intellectualism: a mile wide, an inch deep": A mile is very wide, compared to an inch. They are saying that US intellectuals pontificate on all kinds of subjects, but the are not looking at the details.

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"Deep" in this sentence refers to the amount of thought and information contained in one's ideas. "Wide" means variety.

So the idea expressed in this sentence is that Americans as a whole have many ideas or positions, but those ideas are poorly thought out and not backed by evidence, reality, etc.

Is it true? That is a different question.

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variety now I can figure out the meaning. – quantme Dec 18 '11 at 7:14

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