A hole in the ground

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Allegro molto

Senior Member
Japanese
Hello

On the other hand, my teacher’s reactionary grading shows that our society is culturally illiterate and that many people can’t tell good art from a hole in the ground.
(from Calvin and Hobbes, the IHT)

My question;
What does “a hole in the ground” mean?
I looked up in several dictionaries, but couldn’t find example sentences in which the phrase is used figuratively.
Does it mean something not worth paying attention to?

Thank you
 
  • grubble

    Senior Member
    British English
    "He can't tell a X from a hole in the ground" is a common phrase that indicates that someone is the opposite of being an expert.

    A hole in the ground is a very commonplace thing. It would be possible to change the phrase by saying, e.g. "He can't tell a good piece of furniture from a cardboard box."
    However most people simply use the traditional version.

    The phrase means "He is so stupid that he cannot distinguish between X and Y."
     

    mangoman

    Senior Member
    British English
    I think the original "X" was "his arse".

    "He can't tell his arse ["his asshole" in AE] from a hole in the ground." Both things are holes, he's too stupid to distinguish between them.

    "He can't tell his arse from a hole in the ground" is very, very rude. But "people can’t tell good art from a hole in the ground" is fine. Hardly rude at all.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I think the original "X" was "his arse".

    "He can't tell his arse ["his asshole" in AE] from a hole in the ground." Both things are holes, he's too stupid to distinguish between them.

    Here, a common similar phrase is "he can't tell his ass from his elbow."

    And in "can't tell X from a hole in the ground"--also common--X can be just about anything.

    Both, of course, describe extreme stupidity.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In this case it seems to be less concerned with stupidity than with aesthetic insensitivity, which is another matter. I know many intelligent people with little aesthetic sense.
     

    twinklestar

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I think the original "X" was "his arse".

    "He can't tell his arse ["his asshole" in AE] from a hole in the ground." Both things are holes, he's too stupid to distinguish between them.

    "He can't tell his arse from a hole in the ground" is very, very rude. But "people can’t tell good art from a hole in the ground" is fine. Hardly rude at all.
    I didn't really understand until I read your explanation above. Thank you!
     
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