long on brains

Does this mean 'be smart' or 'having many smart people'?

One dictionary says 'long' means 'having or being more than normal or necessary'.

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    that could mean either, depending on the rest of the sentence. With no context to work on, it might more likely be taken to mean one person being smart than a group or organisation having many smart people… Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 20:16
  • Do you have more context? It could also mean other things - to be "long on" something can also mean making a gamble, specifically a bet on a positive outcome (vs to be "short" something, which is a bet on a negative outcome) - to be "long on brains" as a strategy could mean a bet that throwing enough smart people at a problem will suffice to fix it.
    – J...
    Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 15:25

6 Answers 6


Really, it could mean either. If you're talking about a person, it would mean the person is intelligent (this is the more common usage). But if you were talking about an organisation, it would mean they have many intelligent people.

It depends on the context.


I guess the confusion is the use of the plural "brains". This is casual but idiomatic:

Wiktionary gives:

*(in the plural) Intellect.
She has a lot of brains.

So "Long on brains" means "having a great intellect", or "being very intelligent".

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    "Long on" is much less commonly said than "brains" in my experience. I may even say this is the first time I've ever heard it in all my years of speaking English.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 12:33
  • probably, but the OP has already looked up "long" and found a reasonable definition, and looked up "brain" (countable) and found a couple of definitions "n. pl smartness" and "n. sing. smart person".
    – James K
    Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 12:39
  • @NotThatGuy Maybe more common as part of a longer idiom, "long on ___ but short on ___". english.stackexchange.com/questions/17479/… idioms.thefreedictionary.com/long+on+and+short+on Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 13:38

You can say

I am short of time.


I am short on coffee.

Be long on something then would convey the opposite meaning. It means you would have a good or large supply or endowment (10).

We are long on corn.

I think the problem we have is that we are long on generalities and short on specifics.

As @James pointed out, "long on brains" means "being bright and intelligent". Initially, it didn't make sense to me and my best guess was that it could be said by a seller of animals' brains at the wet market who has a sufficient amount of brains.

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    'Long on brains, short on common sense' is sometimes heard about academically advanced people who lack wordly-wisdom and everyday life skills. Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 10:02

Does this mean 'be smart' or 'having many smart people?

In American English, it’s a personal characteristic. To be “long on brains” means to have a lot of brain power (colloquially “brains”), but it is also part of a common idiom that implies that one is “long” on something (brain power, physical prowess, or some other characteristic) while being “short” in another.

Some stereotypes use this, like sportsmen being assumed to be “long on brawn, but short on brains” or technology people being thought of as long on brains, but short on build, personality, or social skills. These are stereotypes, and like all such generalizations they are often inaccurate, and so the idiom should be considered informal and (potentially) rude or insensitive.


"Brains" usually means just one smart brain because English is weird. We might say "Sue's got brains" to mean she's smart. Comparing a smart person to a strong one is "brains over brawn". It could be "brain over brawn" but if you Google, "brains over brawn" comes up more often. Or "ain't got the brains god gave a goat" means they're stupid.

Long meaning "to be good at" comes from card games such as Bridge. Your cards are sometimes laid out by suit which means lots of one suit (which is good) is visually long. "Clubs are your long suit" in cards becomes "brains are her long suit", or more commonly "strong suit". In cards we might also say "long in clubs" which becomes "long on brains".

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    Do you have a citation for the card game origin? Bridge players talk about being "long in clubs", not "on", so it doesn't add up to me. Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 12:48

I would assume this phrase is borrowed from the stock market. There you can be long on some position, which means you think it will be more valuable in the future. Being short on something means you think its value will fall.

So "long on brains" could mean the speaker thinks having a brain (=being intelligent) will be more valuable in the future.

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    Thx. But it's not a stock market(more specifically futures trading which is 'fraud' in my point of view). Long and short postions mean the status of contracts that you hold now, but 'long on brains' looks like meaning either 'intelligent' or 'having intelligent people' I feel 'intelligent' is dominant.
    – gomadeng
    Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 9:27
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    Futures are not a 'fraud', but a useful tool to hedge against price fluctuations. Also the phrase 'being long on something' is also commonly used when talking about shares or currencys for example. Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 13:12
  • It helps to look at the age of the term and how common the subject is. "long on X" is an old expression. Complex stock trading didn't become popular until maybe the 1990's when everyone had internet. And even before that people mostly just bought stocks. And it's still not something most people do. The analogy also seems iffy. If she's "long on brains" in a stock metaphore it means she thinks she will get a lot smarter? Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 16:13

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