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I saw this picture on the internet, and I can't really understand the meaning of "I wear the brains in the family" used by the wife in the picture. I know the husband said "I wear the pants in the family' means that he is in charge in the family. So the wife responds to him by saying she wears the brains in the family. Does it mean that she is the head of the family?

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The image depicts the woman mocking the man by using the form of his idiomatic expression to return fire, claiming that she's the intelligent one in the family in a comedic way. It's not correct usually to say "I wear the brains in this council", for example, but in this specific case, parallelism is used with the first sentence to provide comedic relief.

For reference, English is my first language and I've been speaking it my whole life. I believe that often English learners take this comedic style too literally, missing the parallelism in the sentences that creates the humor. I respectfully disagree with any claims otherwise.

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    BTW that famous British humour is not always so obvious. – Michael Login Jan 17 at 8:29
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    @MvLog Presumably this isn't British humour, though, since the man says "pants" rather than "trousers". – Especially Lime Jan 17 at 9:41
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    @Especially Lime Yeah, you are right: Edgar Bohan Argo (November 29, 1941 - May 4, 2009) Phoenix, Maryland – Michael Login Jan 17 at 10:26
  • @MvLog That article explains so much about the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie. – Alex Jan 17 at 12:54
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    @MvLog That's also nothing but a myth. Americans use sarcasm all the time. Sarcasm is incredibly common in American humor. It's just that British humor conveys sarcasm in a slightly different way, and it doesn't always translate. But for the most part, Americans do understand British humor, just like most Brits understand American humor. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Jan 17 at 20:28
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"I wear the brains" doesn't make any literal sense. What she means is that she is the one who has the brains (i.e., she's the smart one) but she says it in a way that mirrors the words used by her husband, just because it sounds better.

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The whole point of this joke is that it is a parody of the oft-heard English saying, "to wear the pants in a relationship"; the cartoon is, amongst many things, mocking the idea that there is, can be or should be a "dominant" or "most important" part of any relationship, or indeed in any human collaboration.

"To wear the pants in a relationship", in my experience, is used in English most often in the following three contexts: (1) to be (literal meaning) the male in a heterosexual relationship or, more generally, (2) to be (metaphorical meaning) a "dominant" partner or even (satirical meaning) (3) to have an overswollen sense of one's individual importance in a collaboration and probably a disregard for other people's contributions to that collaboration.

Usages (2) and (3) are often alike when used in the third person, in that they both often have a strong whiff that the "pants wearer" is disrespectful of and lacking acknowledgement for the others who contribute to the relationship, be it a couple or otherwise.

So, although one can't be exactly sure what a cartoonist is getting at, a likely implication of what's going on here is that the man is trying to "pull rank" (i.e. claim authority to have the final say on a decision), possibly because he happens to be the person who has the paid job in the family. The lady is making the point that it takes waaay more than money earning to make any endeavor to work, especially an emotional relationship. She is "wearing the brains", in other words, she is constantly thinking and planning how how family finances are going to meet the couple's needs and avoiding financial disaster, which is no trivial job. Indeed, her expression and the poignant paraphrasing of the dictum probably says she feels severely overstressed and overladen at having to be the one who always has to take this responsibility.

  • "She is "wearing the brains", in other words, she is constantly thinking and planning how how family finances are going to meet the couple's needs and avoiding financial disaster, which is no trivial job." - Isn't that what I said? Someone explain to me how my wording failed to convey that. – Mazura Jan 18 at 13:53
  • He thinks it's about money coming in, but the hard part (balancing a check book) is about money going out. That's the joke. Replace he with she, and vice versa, all you want if it makes you feel any better. – Mazura Jan 18 at 13:59
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    @Mazura There is no cheque book in the picture. And the joke is way more abstract and general than just money - it doesn't need to be about finances at all for the joke to work. Finances are simply an example, because they are a way that gender roles come up in a capitalist society. I'm not the downvoter on your answer BTW. I'm guessing it has been voted down because you don't explain the essence of the notion and also because you then go off on a tangent with another joke of the kind that the OP is having trouble with. Remember, the questioners on this site are not generally native speakers. – WetSavannaAnimal Jan 19 at 22:57
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The husband said "I wear the pants in the family" meaning that he thinks he's in charge in the family. But actually all it means is that he works. I'm not saying she doesn't - but this is a picture of some old people... where likely she writes the checks to pay the bills, etc. which makes her in charge because she's the brains.

There's a joke about sending the husband to the grocery store that's along the same lines: Men will come home with $75 of toilet paper and hotdogs, where as she would have two weeks of gourmet meals planned.

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    No, it's not about who earns the money. In fact he may feel he's in charge - 'wears the pants - because he's the main earner. She's just saying 'You may feel you're in charge, but I'm the clever one!' It's not a particularly funny cartoon, because 'wearing the brains' isn't a thing. – Laurence Payne Jan 17 at 13:10
  • I'd replace "clever one" with matriarch, as the OP said : (literally) meaning that she is the head of the family. The humor is supposed to be because he thinks it's about money coming in, but the hard part (balancing a check book) is about money going out. - That's my interpretation. – Mazura Jan 17 at 13:23
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Since I don't think anyone has explained why it is funny... The point of the joke is that she is trying to say that she is the smartest of the two of them. However, the incorrect way she phrases it goes to show that she is probably not very smart.

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    -1 I don't believe anyone should believe this is the case. Her phrasing was a straight mockery of his phrasing for comedic effect. Had she said, "you are dumb", it would be interpreted as the same, but not really funny. – UnhandledExcepSean Jan 17 at 14:27
  • @UnhandledExcepSean - Yes, perhaps. I think it's possible to interpret it in multiple ways. – Reinstate Monica Jan 17 at 16:05
  • Your interpretation is better. I didn't realize the joke was trying that hard. – Mazura Jan 17 at 19:22
  • @Mazura - Apparently no one else thinks so! Tough crowd here. – Reinstate Monica Jan 18 at 13:45
  • @UnhandledExcepSean - You can't just replace it with "you are dumb" - you have to replace it with, I'm "constantly thinking and planning how how family finances are going to meet the couple's needs and avoiding financial disaster, which is no trivial job." - you idiot.' - Then it's not funny, because it's true. – Mazura Jan 18 at 14:11

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