I know you are but what am I
I know you are but what am I is a juvenile idiom used as a response to an insult.
It is mainly used by children.
For example, a classmate says “You’re stupid”, to which you so cleverly respond “I know you are, but what am I?”.
This action works as a reverse card in the card game “UNO”, 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.
The expression is considered to be a playground taunt, meaning that it is a childish verbal attack.
Origin of the term
Its exact origin is unclear, but it appears to date back to the 60’s or 70’s, according to scholar Lee Thayer in his book “Communication”, published in 1974.
The phrase is often associated with the comic fictional character “Pee-Wee Herman” played by Paul Reubens in the 80’s.
Spread of the term
While some state that the expression is a complete fail of a comeback and only used if you are truly desperate and don’t know how to react to a burn, most claim it’s the best comeback ever.
If you use this comeback, you are wreaking havoc on your opponent.
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?”.
- puttincologneontherickshaw.com – I Know You Are, but What Am I?