Can you state the origin of this folklore "If you hear hoofbeats, think horses not zebras.''?(go to details)?

This is one of the true Mythology & Folklore questions I will post this day. I will give best answers, but I will ignore urls except as Sources.

Can you state the origin of " If you hear hoofbeats, think horses not zebras.'' and who took credit for putting it into scientific language without giving any credit to the earlier words of the same theory?


Hint: Hippocrates

4 Answers

  • COA
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Zebra is a slang medical term for a very unlikely diagnosis when a common ailment is most likely the cause. This is the meaning of “If you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.”

    This horses vs. zebras principle is known as Occam’s Razor and is attributed to the 14th century English logician and Franciscan friar, William of Ockham. It basically states, "Of two competing theories or explanations, all other things being equal, the simpler one is to be preferred."

    "Although the same principle ‘Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora’ or 'It is pointless to do with more what can be done with fewer' was known to Aristotelians, it is only through the writings of Ockham that this principle became popular among philosophers."

    The scientific theory basically means: "All things being equal, when you have eliminated all other possibilities, what ever is left must be the truth."

    I do think this is one of those many sayings that people use without giving credit to the source, but for someone else to take credit for it is a big no-no. Maybe it should be called Aristotle's Razor.


    Hippocrates is known as the Father of Medicine. Was the concept originally his?


    Two sites I explored list the source as unknown and another attributes it to Dr. Thomas E. Woodward. It does make one wonder what to believe.


    It is a good concept. I always tell my clients let's try the simple things first, and many times it works.


    Another site credits the quote to Harley S. Smyth.

    What the heck????????

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  • Anonymous
    4 years ago

    Zebra Hoof

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  • 1 decade ago

    I don't think it's folklore at all, I think it's from a marketing speach that was talking about going directly to the obvious. Basically the opposite of thinking OUTSIDE the box.

    It's not going to be scientific language either.

    Wikipedia's entry isn't sure

    But I have heard this at least 8 years ago in regards to a marketing speech being given at the university.

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  • Anonymous
    6 years ago

    When you hear zebras all the time it doesn't mean you are "out of the box", you are just in another box. Maid be you are just wearing tinfoil hat ;)

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