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H. L. Mencken quoted

One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms.

The other half of it is

It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent."

Is that an idiom? What does it imply?

In the article The Crimson Bookshelf: Mencken Collects His Choicest Works I read this interpretation:

Mencken does not take himself seriously, and he is always dismayed when his readers overdo the business. "One horse laugh," he says, "is worth ten thousand syllogisms," and he proceeds to provide many move horse-laughs than examples of neat, careful, judicious, and thorough thinking. I repeat that this is a matter of doctrine, not of accident. Speaking of great critics, he says that "they could make the thing charming, and that is always a million times more important than making it true."

From this paragraph it seems its used as a sarcasm?

That is, is he using it in a mockery manner that "Instead of scratching your head trying and reasoning with people using tools like syllogism; just using horse-laugh (fallacy but impactful nevertheless) is more impactful"

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  • Horse-laugh or horselaugh is in plenty of dictionaries: a loud boisterous laugh. The meaning of the rest of it should be obvious, with nothing idiomatic.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 7 at 9:00
  • what i wanted to understand is the interpretation (if there's a generic one) and if its not idiomatic and more philosophical, then I guess I am not sure how to rephrase the question to ask the "english" way (maybe need to move this question to some other stackexchange, unsure)
    – gawkface
    Oct 7 at 20:31
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Your quote should be reduced to

Mencken does not take himself seriously, and he is always dismayed when his readers overdo the business. "One horse laugh," he says, "is worth ten thousand syllogisms," and he proceeds to provide many move horse-laughs than examples of neat, careful, judicious, and thorough thinking. I repeat that this is a matter of doctrine, not of accident.

This defines what he means by "One horse laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms,"

Let us assume you and your friend, who is an art critic, visit an art exhibition. There are many people there.

You see one exhibit which is an old kitchen sink filled with old car-parts, and entitled "Modern Life".

Your friend, the critic, starts to give a long explanation about how the exhibit does, in fact, represent "Modern Life".

You simply laugh a loud and honest laugh because you find it stupid.

Mencken suggests that your honest laughter says far more about the qualities of the exhibit than the critic's carefully worded justification ever could.

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  • actually that's why i put forward the question - the interpretation here you present is how my horse-laugh is "honest" and says "more" than critic's justification. Whereas, I interpreted it as 'i would do horse-laugh instead of logically proving the critic wrong because that's more "impactful"' - impactful to a third-party judge deciding on the validation of the art-piece. And that my horse-laugh is charming rather than true (when I use the interpretation I quoted in question)
    – gawkface
    Oct 7 at 20:35
  • Exactly. An honest laugh conveys more meaning and more quickly than closely argued words.
    – Greybeard
    Oct 7 at 20:37
  • but what i am confused is how come the laugh is honest (is that the meaning of horse-laugh?). according to me the laugh is a derided one because of the "* more important than making it true.*" - so the laugh is an action trying to cover the lack of sensible argument
    – gawkface
    Oct 7 at 21:00
  • You are over-thinking the matter. A horse-laugh is a laugh that honestly and openly expresses the feelings of the person laughing. Mencken is point is that a critic can make the same thing appear good or bad and thus, with professional criticism, there remain doubts about the item's quality. But, with a horse-laugh, we instantly and instinctively know the genuine assessment of the person who laughs. Mencken's article represents the [traditional] low estimation that authors and artists have of critics. He is saying "if you want to know if it is good or bad, show it to a member of the public."
    – Greybeard
    Oct 8 at 11:09
  • I see your point, and I see that Mencken's second part of "vastly more intelligent" supports that. To me, that intelligence is about using a strategy of how to convince (regardless of the truth). Kind of like "three men make a tiger". Your interpretation is indeed something I didnt consider, I wonder if there are other interpretations (not sure how to know the interpretation that was actually intended - maybe someone who has read the whole book knows more about the context...) I will google some more to validate if possible, the interpretations...
    – gawkface
    Oct 10 at 2:37

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