When you hear hoofbeats behind you, don't expect to see a zebra.
||Theodore E. Woodward, MD
University of Maryland
For 15 years I was unable to discover who coined this phrase.
There was not much evidence to go on.
One printed source, a physician's memoir, indicated that the phrase was
already common in at least one New York teaching hospital in the early 1960s.
I had seen the phrase
ascribed to Dr. Philip Tumulty of Johns Hopkins, but in a 1982 conversation
with me he denied it.
Then, in 1995 I made a presentation to a continuing medical
education course at Hopkins. A member of the audience recalled
hearing it during his medical training in the 1950s. He suggested I
speak with his former chief, Dr. Theodore Woodward of the University
of Maryland in Baltimore.
Dr. Woodward is now Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University
of Maryland. An infectious disease specialist, he is affiliated
with the Baltimore Veterans Administration Hospital.
Dr. Woodward was most gracious on the telephone.
He admitted that he probably had something to do with coining
the phrase. His original admonition to medical trainees in the
late 1940s was
"Don't look for zebras on Greene Street." (The University of
Maryland Hospital is located on Greene Street in Baltimore.)
How this developed into the precise wording of the aphorism is still
Nevertheless, it seems proper to credit Dr. Woodward
with inventing it.
Dr. Woodward has published his memoirs:
Make Room for Sentiment:
A Physician's Story. Theodore E. Woodward; in collaboration
with the Medical Alumni Association of the University of Maryland
and the Historical Society of Carroll County. Baltimore: The Association,
1998. ISBN 0961911913. Library of Congress control number: 98015858.