There are some people who, if they don't already know, you can't tell 'em.

- Yogi Berra

Does it mean you don't know how good or bad some people are unless you get too close to them? (i.e., you can't tell them apart)

Or does it mean, a secret cannot be revealed to some people no matter what?

  • 4
    Remember that Yogi Berra never said half the things he said.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 1, 2015 at 21:17
  • I think it means that there are know-it -alls. It reminds we of "You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can't tell him much."
    – Airymouse
    Sep 6, 2016 at 15:55
  • It reminds me of the one about the Bourbon dynasty: they never learned anything and they never forgot anything.
    – Al Maki
    Sep 6, 2016 at 16:14

2 Answers 2


It means that some people are unteachable: so dense or so close-minded that they are incapable of comprehending or accepting what you tell them unless it conforms to what they already know or believe.

Incidentally, this Yogi-ism is often attributed to Louis Armstrong, probably through confusion with what Satchmo is said to have told somebody who asked him to define jazz: "If you have to ask nobody can explain it to you." And that story, which starts cropping up in the 1950s, seems to derive from a line attributed to Fats Waller at least as early as 1938: "If you gotta ask what [swing] is, please don't mess with it."

  • 1
    It could mean merely that they are unteachable. Perhaps also that they can acquire knowledge only without assistance, i.e., that they have to teach themselves or they can't learn.
    – Robusto
    Sep 1, 2015 at 15:52
  • @Robusto I think all of the above. AND the ineffability of some topics, as in the pseudo-Armstrong quote I've now added. Sep 1, 2015 at 16:15
  • I think that is the real meaning, and if you make that quote and its context the thrust of your response I will upvote it.
    – Robusto
    Sep 1, 2015 at 16:16
  • 1
    @Robusto I'm reluctant to narrow it that far without pinning the original down to a particular context which would support it. As it stands, it is in the first instance about 'some people', not some topic. But I will generalize along the lines of your first comment. Sep 1, 2015 at 16:44

StoneyB has provided what I take to be the correct interpretation of the quotation. To his answer, I would only add that many of the remarks attributed to Yogi Berra as "Yogi-isms" have in common a kind of logical turmoil that prevents the statement from making sense if taken literally. For example, Berra is also noted for having said:

Nobody goes there anymore—it's too crowded.


I wish I had an answer to that because I'm tired of answering it.

and of course

I never said most of the things I said.

The logical impasse in the OP's quotation is that, if certain people really couldn't ever be told (that is, learn) anything they didn't already know, they couldn't learn anything, period. What you already know from the outset, you don't learn; and what you learn along the way, you didn't already know. So the literal logic of Berra's remark is fractured, but the intended sense of it is, as StoneyB says, that some people are very bad learners because they are extremely resistant to new ideas.