Do you know him from Adam?

“When I saw this bowed, cadaverous, bald-headed old buffer with spectacles I could hardly believe my eyes. I shouldn’t have known him from Adam.”—FOOTPRINTS IN THE JUNGLE by W. Somerset Maugham

What does “know someone from Adam” mean?

Adam is the first man created by the deity in the Hebrew holy book, and we don’t know what he looked like.

If we could not identify or recognize someone, then we could say he is as unrecognizable to us as Adam. We “don’t know him from Adam” means we could not distinguish him from Adam. He could be anyone, even Adam.

“I shouldn’t have known him from Adam” means “I could not possibly know or identify him - he could be Adam or anyone else I have never seen”.

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Thank you for your reply, Xophist.
Am I right in thinking that “know A from B” means “differentiate between A and B”?


You do not have to say “hello” here.
I wonder why you wrote only one word “hello” in your post without writing anything related to this thread.
Please delete your post.
You might want to start a new thread.

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“know A from B”

In some contexts, it can also mean that you know A and you learned A from B or that you know A and A is from B. For example,

  • I know Adam from the Bible

This could mean that you know Adam, and the specific Adam that you know is the Adam in the Bible. Alternatively, it could mean that you know Adam, and you learned about Adam from the Bible.

From the experience gained on this forum you might have anticipated the scientist’s added perspective.

“Madam, I’m Adam. Why can’t you know me from him?”