First mention of “Can’t State” dates back nearly 100 years



Students walk on the Esplande by the Business & Administration on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Brian Smith.

Alicia Balog

Rival universities—and some students—of Kent State University joke, “Can’t read? Can’t write? Kent State” or “Can’t read, Can’t write, Can’t State.” The saying has echoed around the university for several decades, but the original “Can’t State” joke is nearly 100 years old.

On page 200 of the 1916 Chestnut Burr, the yearbook for the university, originally Kent State Normal School, students wrote a humor section called “Can’t State Normal College Batalog” in which Kent State Normal School became “Can’t State.”

“Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Ohio that there be created and established an institution known as the Can’t State Normal School which shall provide for the enfrightment of the coming ages,” according to “Hysterical and Historical” section from the 1916 Chestnut Burr.

Over the years, the “Can’t State” homophonic rib evolved into “Can’t read, Can’t write, Kent State,” the phrase that has finally transcended common Northeastern Ohio knowledge.

Some students use variations like “Can’t read, Can’t write, Can’t remember what I did last night” if they partied too hard. A group about the saying exists on Facebook. References to it can even be heard in I Am KSU (Kent State University) by DJ $crilla.

Derek Klingshirn, junior sociology major, said he thinks the saying is clever, but a little negative.

“It kind of gives us our own image but in a negative way,” Klingshirn said. “So in a way it’s cool, but in a way it’s a negative stereotype for sure.”

Katherine Forbess, sophomore fashion design major, said she doesn’t believe in the saying.

“I think it’s just like a coincidence that ‘Kent’ sounds like ‘can’t,’” Forbess said. “Maybe it applies to some other people, but I know a lot of people here that are intelligent, that have really good majors and get really good grades, and I just don’t really believe that people here don’t know how to—‘Can’t read, can’t write, Kent State.’”

Nick Barnewall, freshman computer science major, said that though the phrase is funny, more people should have pride in the university.

“I know that this isn’t the best one around,” Barnewall said. “But still it’s better than, say, Akron.”

Dan Burbules, sophomore exercise science major, said if students know the true nature of college, then the saying doesn’t really matter.

“I agree that it’s kind of a funny phrase or motto,” Burbules said. “But to me personally, it doesn’t hold much value because I just know my worth in a university.”

Contact Alicia Balog at [email protected].