Albert Einstein accomplished so much and influenced so much more that it is sometimes hard to separate the man from the myth. It is also difficult to reconcile that the brain that changed the world with E=MC2 could simultaneously make his confidants chuckle with his wry wit.
Many of the genius’s eccentricities have been well documented. Some of them have appeared here on Commonplace Fun Facts, such as his habit of not wearing socks, or the way he used the money from his yet-to-be-earned Nobel Prize as a settlement in his divorce. Other stories have a curious mixture of authenticity and mythology. Just as his last words are clouded in mystery, so is there a fabled-but-dubious legend surrounding his first words.
Einstein’s sister Maja wrote in an unpublished biography that the great physicist did not make a favorable impression upon entering the world. She recorded that upon seeing her newborn son, “his mother was shocked at the sight of the back of his head, which was extremely large and angular.”
Einstein didn’t say his first words until he was at least 2 ½ years old. That much is certain. What his first words were is a bit speculative, but the legend is so good that it bears repeating. Allegedly, the young boy took a sip of milk and abruptly complained, “It’s too hot.” His parents were stunned, having never heard him utter a word. They asked him why he hadn’t spoken before. Young Albert replied, “Previously, everything was in order.”
Rather than bemoan his slow start in life, Einstein pointed to it as a significant element in his success. “A normal adult never stops to think about problems of space and time,” he once wrote. “But my intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time only when I had grown up.”
As to the rest of the secret behind his success, he summed it up by saying, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”
It alternately amused and irritated the great scientist that he had risen from obscurity to celebrity. Having transformed our knowledge of how the universe works, many people expected that every word he spoke would have profound, universe-changing meaning. Einstein apparently held no such illusions. His journal entry for December 11, 1930, records, “A horde of reporters boarded our ship near Long Island. [They] asked me extremely stupid questions which I answered with cheap retorts, which they accepted with enthusiasm.”
For almost the entirety of his scientific career, Einstein charted his own path and frequently ran into conflict with the powers that be. As his fame increased and more and more people looked to him for the answers, he was confronted with the irony. He concluded, “To punish me for my contempt of authority, Fate has made me an authority myself.”