That more knows Tom Fool than Tom Fool knows


Senior Member
Hi folks, this is cited from Colonel Jack, by Daniel Defoe.
So can you explain what this proverb mean?
Meanwhile, context: Colonel Jack is in a fear of being recognized by any Scotchmen. He went to window and look at them through a screen over his face.

Scotchmen, which was easy to discern. However, it was no satisfaction to me that I knew not their faces, for they might know mine for all that, according to the old English proverb, "That more knows Tom Fool than Tom Fool knows;" so I kept close in my chamber till I understood they were all gone.
  • Tom Fool was a name given to the part of the fool in a play or morris dance.

    (Little Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs)
    Hence the term tomfoolery. :)
    Do you mean, They know Tom Fool more than Tom knows them?

    No. "More" here is the subject, and it means "more people." Think of any well-known celebrity: he or she knows a number of people, but even more people would know who the celebrity is -- including many people the celebrity has never met, and never heard of.
    More people know Tom Fool than Tom Fool knows
    Said in a situation when someone is recognized by a person or persons whom he himself does not know or recognize.

    (Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs)

    But I imagine it can also be understood as meaning that more people know Tom to be a fool than he is aware of.
    In other words, a “Tom Fool” is someone so stupid that he doesn’t even realise how everyone else sees him.
    (Thinks: Let me see now, who could that possibly apply to these days?)
    The origin of the saying is the theatrical fool or jester or clown, who is dressed outrageously and so immediately stands out from the crowd. Everyone knows who he is, but it doesn’t work the other way round.

    Which brings us back to Keith’s explanation in #2.
    I think there are two different opinons about this proverb.
    1-A lot of people recognize Tom than he was aware of.
    2-A lot of people recognize Tom but Tom recognizes a few of them,
    If so these are different than each other.
    No. You seem to be missing the point.

    I’m not 100% sure of the storyline here, but the passage you’re querying seems to mean that there was no reason why Jack should recognise the Scotsmen’s faces, but every reason why they might recognise his — which is why he hid.