She'd give anything to be able to believe it, but she's a hard woman, and brooding along certain lines makes one groovy. I have sometimes been afraid of her reason—on the religious side, don't you know. Elizabeth doesn't matter. Brain of a hen. Always had.

This is from "The House Surgeon" by Rudyard Kipling

I don't understand the meaning of "Brain of a hen."

  • Also, one other gotcha: “groovy” in this passage seems to mean, “like a wheel stuck in a rut, or groove.” That is, unable to break the pattern set by repetition. If you look the word up in a dictionary, it means something different today.
    – Davislor
    Jul 5, 2021 at 19:20
  • In modern (American) English, we’d probably say something like, “brooding along certain lines gets one in a rut.” Less formally, “gets you” instead of “gets one.”
    – Davislor
    Jul 5, 2021 at 19:27

1 Answer 1


Saying "brain of a hen" as a complete sentence is an abbreviated way of saying "she has the brain of a hen". It's an insult, suggesting she has the same brain capacity as a hen's brain.

English speakers often abbreviate sentences, especially when the subject and context have already been laid out in previous statements, as in this case. In particular, insults are often blurted without any further construction.

  • 1
    I’d add to this that “Brain of a hen. Always had,” is an abbreviated way of saying, “She has always had the brain (and the intelligence) of a hen.”
    – Davislor
    Jul 5, 2021 at 19:23
  • Also, “brooding” is something a hen does, so that might be why Kipling chose that metaphor right after it.
    – Davislor
    Jul 5, 2021 at 19:28

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