Most people are unable to write because they are unable to think, and they are unable to think because they congenitally lack the equipment to do so, just as they congenitally lack the equipment to fly over the moon.

  • It means most people are too stupid to write. And "congenital" means they were born that way.
    – Hot Licks
    May 15, 2016 at 22:43
  • A cursory search doesn't turn up the quote in Mencken's writing. Most likely it's from this: "I doubt that the art of thinking can be taught at all.... It is not acquired, but congenital. Some persons are born with it. Their ideas flow in straight channels; they are capable of lucid reasoning; ... when they write anything it is clear and persuasive. ... The rest of God's children are just as incapable of logical thought as they are incapable of jumping over the moon. Trying to teach them to think is as vain an enterprise as trying to teach a streptococcus the principles of Americanism.
    – JEL
    May 16, 2016 at 6:00

2 Answers 2


This hinges on congenital:

having a particular trait from birth or by firmly established habit

So, the phrase simply means that people can't write because they can't think, and they can't think because they lack the equipment (brain) from birth/habit, just as they lack the equipment (rockets/etc.) to fly over the moon. It's an insult: they clearly lack the equipment necessary to fly over the moon, which tells you how little brain they have, and thus they have zero ability to think, which is why they can't write.

Somewhat brutal, in my opinion, but that's the intention!


Prof Yaffle has the literal meaning of the quote, but I believe Mencken meant

"You cannot teach a person to write".

I don't know the context of this quote, but I strongly suspect it was not so general as it sounds, and carried subtext something like this:

"Go away and stop asking me how to become a writer. If you can't think, you can't write, and the fact you are asking me how to write strongly suggests you cannot think."

  • Yeah, it's likely that Mencken was besieged by people wanting advice for their writing.
    – Hot Licks
    May 15, 2016 at 23:54

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