Example: [Cerf, 1945]
Variations: Older versions of this legend generally involve a religion class or a class at a religious institution, but more modern forms are likely to feature any type of class. Typical examples of questions and answers are:
Answer: "Who am I to criticize the Master? I would rather discuss the journeys of
Answer: "Far be it from me to intrude my humble intelligence upon so delicate a subject. Instead I will explain the significance of and list in chronological order five Kings of Israel."
Answer: "The elephant is the largest of all land mammals and is possessed of several distinctive features among which are large floppy ears, enormous paws that are sometimes used as umbrella stands, and a giant worm-like trunk. The earthworm
Origins: This legend of students trying to outsmart the instructor who has thwarted their attempts to take advantage of him dates back to at least the 1940s. Richard Dorson reports it as circulating at Harvard about Robert Benchley, who, when asked an exam question about the diplomatic history of rights to Newfoundland fisheries, allegedly wrote, "This question has long been discussed from the American and British points of view, but has anyone ever considered the viewpoint of the fish?" In any case, the provenance of this legend hardly need be questioned: who among us has not tried to switch subjects when confronted with a question he couldn't answer?
Last updated: 22 June 2011
Bronner, Simon J. Piled Higher and Deeper. Little Rock: August House, 1990. ISBN 0-87483-154-7 (pp. 36-37). Brunvand, Jan Harold. Curses! Broiled Again! New York: W. W. Norton, 1989. ISBN 0-393-30711-5 (pp. 289-291). Cerf, Bennett. Try and Stop Me. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1945 (p. 171). Dorson, Richard M. "The Folklore of Colleges." The American Mercury. June 1949 (p. 673).