I Know You Are, But What Am I?

Meaning

What does I Know You Are, But What Am I? mean?

I Know You Are, But What Am I? is a juvenile expression, used as a response to an insult. It is mainly encountered on schoolyards or kindergartens, from the mouths of children.

Technically, it works as a UNO Reverse Card, as it flips the original insult towards the person who sent it, confusing them and throwing them off, so that you suddenly seem like the person in power. Its often-memed variation is No U.

The expression is considered to be a playground taunt, meaning that it is a childish verbal attack, and it is not recommended for adults to use, if they want to be taken seriously.

Although it was part of every English native’s childhood in kindergarten, it became a frequently memed expression, thanks to Paul Reubens’ iconic character Pee-Wee Herman, who uses the taunt in an iconic scene in the 1985 movie “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.” 

Example: A classmate says “You’re stupid”, to which you so cleverly respond “I Know You Are, But What Am I?”.

via GIPHY

Origin

What's the origin of I Know You Are, But What Am I??

The origin⁣ of “I Know You Are, But What⁣ Am I?” can ⁣be traced back to the playgrounds⁣ of childhood,‍ where ​the art of banter was honed. While it is difficult to pinpoint an exact moment when this phrase first originated, it gained significant popularity in the second half of the 20th century. According to scholar Lee Thayer in his 1974 book, titled  “Communication”, the expression started gaining popularity in the United States during the 1960s and 70s.

The phrase is often associated with the comic fictional character Pee-Wee Herman played by Paul Reubens in the 80s. One of the most iconic scenes of the character comes from the 1985 movie “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”, where he is engagin in a long verbal back-and-forth with another character, repeatedly saying “I Know You Are, But What⁣ Am I?”.

Spread & Usage

How did I Know You Are, But What Am I? spread?

While some state that the expression is completely childish and is useless in an argument, others claim it’s the best comeback ever. If you use this comeback, you are wreaking havoc on your opponent, just like when you Bait them with Ligma, or make them Ask Who Joe Is.

In an episode called “Lemon of Troy” of the popular TV-Series The Simpsons, Bart responds to a bully that is calling him garbage with “I Know You Are, But What⁣ Am I?”, repeatedly, just to piss him off.

Later, author Samantha Bee realized that the phrase can make just as much sense when flipped, as she shows in her book “I Know I Am, But What Are You?”.

External resources

More interesting stuff