A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing

Meaning of “A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing”

This proverb ‘A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing’ means a person is sharing his views with others and doesn’t have enough knowledge of a particular subject, especially medical, religion, or education field, it can lead to dangerous situations. People with limited experience can often mislead people. Innocent people or people with a lack of information may easily believe the person pretending to know everything because most of the time, they are very convincing. A person with a little information and knowledge can also become a cause of suffering and even death due to their overconfidence.

Origin of “A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing”

It is stated that this proverb has been coined by Alexander Pope. He wrote in his essay An Essay on Criticism in 1709 that “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” Later in 1774, a magazine, Lady’s Complete Magazine used it in its second volume changing it to “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Since then, it has become a routine to use the proverb in almost in the same words as it has appeared in its early usage.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

A Little Learning by Alexander Pope

A little learning is a dangerous thing ;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring :
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts ;
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind,
But, more advanced, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise !
So pleased at first the towering Alps we try,
Mount o’er the vales, and seem to tread the sky ;
The eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last ;
But those attained, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthened way ;
The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes,
Hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise !

The poem starts with this adage, highlighting that as soon as we start having a little knowledge, it intoxicates us with pride and arrogance. However, as soon as a person becomes more knowledgeable, he becomes sober. The poet has beautifully used metaphors to convey that when a person does not get more knowledge and does not become an expert, he often becomes haughty and mislead others. The use of this proverb in the first line correctly highlights the main idea of the poem.

Example #2

A Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing: Understanding Our Global Knowledge Economy by Dale Neef

A management consultant, a strategist of corporate policy and a recognized author, Dale Neef, has shed light on the importance of knowledge and its management in the world of business. He has highlighted the importance of global culture and its knowledge to improve personal economics and economy at large. The book highlights that now the business world and businesses no longer accept people having no educational or professional background. If a person with limited education enters the world of business, he faces hurdles and outright losses. Therefore, Dale Neef has aptly used this proverb in the title of the book.

Example #3

A Little Knowledge (Is a Dangerous Thing) sung by Tower of Tower

I always knew just what to do
Till I met you now nothing is certain
You offered me food from the tree
Just like a story of Adam and Eve
A perfect love is all that I was living for
(All of a sudden life was turning upside down)
She came near, she whispered in my ear,
She seems to know the reason why….she said


A little knowledge is a dangerous thing (yeaah!)
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, baby

Written by Castillo Emilio and colleagues, this is a powerful song sung by Tower of Tower, an Oklahoma based band. This song has a chorus which repeats the proverb several times to transform it into a powerful refrain. The song has mixed love and religion in a way that it ends up stressing upon the feminine quality of giving information or knowledge to the lovers. The refrain from chorus adds beauty and melody to the song in a way that it becomes a melodic refrain of how a little knowledge becomes risky for a person.

Examples in Sentences

Example  #1: “He knows that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, the reason that he is going for a terminal degree in his subject.” This is a simple sentence where this proverb has been used in a metaphorical sense but not as a complete metaphor. It is a metaphor for knowledge that is compared to something dangerous.

Example #2: “Like a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, a little water is a risky thing when passing the Sahara Desert, for it is such a vast expanse that this water dries up during the first journey.” Here this proverb has equated the scarcity of water with the littleness of knowledge and compared both with each other. As this comparison has a word “like,” it shows that it is a simile which has compared the little knowledge with the little water and the impacts of this knowledge with the scarcity of water. This could be called an extended metaphor.

Example #3: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, especially the way the counselors advised him to take medication without a doctor’s approval.”

Example #4: “Don’t think him a little knowledge is a dangerous thing; he has studied a lot and earned the final degree from Oxford.” This sentence is using this proverb in a metaphorical sense for a person that he is not.

Example #5: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing like a little experience is risky work.” Here the proverb has been compared with the experience and is used as a simile.