[The Spartans] conceal their wisdom, and pretend to be blockheads, so that they may seem to be superior only because of their prowess in battle ... This is how you may know that I am speaking the truth and that the Spartans are the best educated in philosophy and speaking: if you talk to any ordinary Spartan, he seems to be stupid, but eventually, like some expert marksman, he shoots in some brief remark that proves you to be only a child.
— Plato, Protagoras
"To be looked upon as a fool by an idiot is a true connoisseur's delight."
"Eisenhower’s career demonstrated how it is possible to fool all the people all the time...'I may be stupid,' he once said at a press conference, 'but at least I’m sincere!' Actually, he was neither, but it suited his purpose to play the part of the bumbling man of good will who was 'not an expert in these matters' but somehow would do his best."
...But we must be even more intelligent. We must be so intelligent that he does not suspect us of being intelligent at all.
— Hercule Poirot, The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Mrs. Scarlioni: My dear, I don't think he's as stupid as he seems.
Count Scarlioni: My dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems.
— Doctor Who, "City of Death"
Sharez Jek: You have the mouth of a prattling jackanapes but your eyes tell a different story.
— Doctor Who, "The Caves of Androzani"
"That's when it hit me. I realized that if I let him think he was smarter than me, I could make him do anything I wanted."
— Grandpa Phil on dealing with Nazis, Hey Arnold!
The thing about Colbert is he's fucking brilliant... He was always the smartest guy in the room, and he was always smart enough not to let you know he was the smartest guy in the room.
— Scott Wherry on long-time friend Stephen Colbert
All warfare is based on deception.
— Sun Tzu, The Art of War
A certain combination of skill and ignorance is very effective, you do not suspect it, and you accede to it.
I've always found that declaring something at Customs makes it much easier and faster to get through. The people who declare nothing tend to be the ones pulled over for complete luggage inspections, whereas if you say you're carrying a bag of jelly babies and a wooden souvenir elephant, the Customs officers just look at you as though you have no idea what you're doing and wave you through.
It takes a smart guy to play dumb.
— Mr. T
A truly advanced being might realize it's best to approach lesser species in a nonthreatening way — as a ridiculous-looking creature who comes across as a pompous jerk barely able to keep his foot out of his mouth. It puts you at ease, doesn't it, when you say, This Pollisand guy isn't so scary; he's not the swaggering supergenius the rest of the universe thinks he is. You catch me making a few goofs, you throw my words back in my face, and after a while, you relax cuz you think I'm not smart enough to pull the wool over your eyes.
— The Pollisand, Ascending
Thinking I'm a moron gives people something to feel smug about. Why should I disillusion them?
— Charles Wallace, A Wrinkle in Time
I'll show you the truth.
Soyogi: She's coming up? In that case, I'm going down.
Nagi: You can't deal with her either, huh?
Pollio: Do you want to live a long and busy life, with honor at the end of it?
Pollio: Then exaggerate your limp, stammer deliberately, sham sickness frequently, let your wits wander, jerk your head and twitch with your hands on all public or semi-public occasions. If you could see as much as I see, you would know that this was your only hope of eventual glory.
Claudius: As for being half-witted, well, what can I say? Except that I have survived to middle age with half my wits while thousands have died with all of theirs intact! Evidently quality of wits is more important than quantity!
An unintelligent enemy is far less dangerous than an intelligent one, Jamie. Just act stupid. Do you think you can manage that?
— The Second Doctor, Doctor Who, "The Dominators"
Day after day,
Alone on a hill,
The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still
But nobody wants to know him,
They can see that he's just a fool,
And he never gives an answer,
But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning 'round...
— The Beatles, "The Fool on the Hill"
Rule 15: Acting stupid is often smart.
AC: :33 < then look like a fool!
AC: :33 < but don't be one
No one is as dumb as I appear to be.
— David "Mo" Rutherford, The Stuff
I can't tell if you're really fuckin' dumb, or really fuckin' smart.
— Wendell Everett, The Guard
Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with the inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.
Papa is not a stupid man. It takes calculation to decimate another human with a word. He measures others carefully. He only feigns being crude and dense.
— Masaru "Kodama" Kodaka, Bokurano
Mr. Mxyzptlk: If you can make me say, spell or otherwise reveal my name backwards then I'll split, until our dimensions come into alignment again in... oh, three months, give or take.
Superman: I can't even say your name forwards - how am I supposed to say it backwards?
Mr. Mxyzptlk: No, dope, *you* don't have to say it, you have to get *me* to say it!
Superman: Say what?
Mr. Mxyzptlk: Kltpzyxm! Gosh, you're thick! Now, for the last time... ah, nuts! [vanishes]
Tarquin: Remember, Nale: Who knows that you know is just as important as knowing in in the first place.
Nale: But you look like a fool for being ignorant!
Tarquin: So what? Better to look the fool than be one.
It's great how all these morons think I'm the one who's too naive.
How big of a dumbass do you think I think you are?
— Kit, not buying it, The Dreadful