View Full Version : What does the phrase "Went over your head" mean to you?

Cat Whisperer
06-27-2006, 11:48 PM
I'm having a bit of a discussion about what the phrase "It went over your head" means. The other party is saying that it simply means that you mis-interpreted or didn't understand something - value neutral. I think that it means that you didn't understand it because you aren't smart enough - a bit of a put-down.

What say you all?

06-27-2006, 11:59 PM
I think it definitely has a pejorative meaning. To me, it means the listen did not comprehend something because s/he is unable to comprehend it or at least had a brain fart moment.

06-28-2006, 12:40 AM
I'd say it can carry either connotation, depending upon the context.

06-28-2006, 12:54 AM
Depends. A lot of the time, I will say that something was completely over my head because it was so high-level/complicated/whatever. I'm pretty smart and all, but I can't understand everything the first time 'round. I don't mean it as a downer on myself, just that some material is difficult for anyone.

Other times, it might mean that the person isn't very bright.

Or it might mean that the person is just young, too; saying that something went over a 5-yo's head isn't insulting, it's just fact.

06-28-2006, 05:06 AM
To me, it means failure of comprehension - but either because the hearer was incapable of understanding it due to lack of knowledge/cognitive skills, or just because they weren't paying attention or for some other reason, it failed to register as important.

06-28-2006, 07:59 AM
I've used it as both of these meanings and also as a sort of zing for the person who was talking, kind of saying they were coaching it in too high language to be properly understood.

06-28-2006, 08:06 AM
To me it means you ddin't understand it by a combination of how it was explained and lack of knowledge (not necessarily of wits).

Many people will happily say something about "the third espatofistus on the left which of course is a sargantoner" and be surprised when those not in their line of work reply with "uh?"

06-28-2006, 08:09 AM
I'd say it can carry either connotation, depending upon the context.
Ditto. I've said it about myself...like when you're watching something on tv and you "get it" a minute or so later, so you say it went right over your head. It can be "you missed it" or "you're inexperienced" or "you're stupid."

Ice Wolf
06-28-2006, 10:10 AM
It's either (a) the incomprehensuion meaning, or (b) as in "he/she/they went over your head", someone takes a complaint to your superiors.

Cat Whisperer
06-28-2006, 11:25 PM
So, no real consensus on this one. Okay, I will consider the phrase more ambiguous than I previously had.

06-29-2006, 05:55 AM
Hmm, maybe I'm odd, but when I say something went over my head, it's usually something I feel I could get if I knew one other piece of relevant information. Like, when someone makes a reference I didn't catch and someone else laughs, for example. And I'll say, "Haha, that one went over my head."

If it's something I truly do not and could not understand ever without years of schooling, it's just "I don't understand that."

06-29-2006, 06:35 AM
I'd say it's usually sort of condescending. Not so much, "damn, you're an idiot." but "aw, that's cute. she's too innocent/gullible/inexperienced/young to get it"

If someone said something went over my head, I'd generally be embarrassed, but not insulted. "yeah yeah, okay, silly me. now I know."

On the other hand, though, if someone tells me it's over my head before there's any evidence that it is, I'd be insulted. If I asked a question and the response was "that's over your head" I'd take that as an insult- it's not a commentary on what I currently know or do not know (there's no shame in not knowing something as long as I can ask the right questions and learn it.) as much as an assumption of what I'm capable of knowing or understanding.

don't ask
06-29-2006, 06:52 AM
I'd take it as insulting. If someone said something was "over my head" I would assume that they meant I was incapable of understanding it. However if someone said that I had seemed to "have a mental block" about something I would assume that they thought I understood but the information I wanted wouldn't be recalled.

06-29-2006, 12:15 PM
It depends, the same as lots of other phrases. You can say "You're clueless!" affectionately to a friend, or to a stranger that pisses you off.

I was once talking to a guy who was a physics professor and was discussing a topic beyond my level of physics education, and I told him it was over my head. I certainly didn't mean "I'm undereducated" or "I'm stupid."

Jokes go over people's heads (note the frequent use of "whoosh" on these boards), but it doesn't mean their considered stupid.

OTOH some uses of the phrase are intended to be an insult.

07-01-2006, 03:40 AM
I once gave a broom to a rookie and asked me what he should do with it...

I told him he could either go sweep the drive-through...

Or pretend he was Edward the Second...

07-02-2006, 12:16 AM
It hit me when I read don't ask's post. If something "went over my head" it's something I just didn't get, either because I didn't have the information or because I wasn't paying attention. It's usually pretty neutral, or just a little bit kidding. Kind of like "whoosh"

If something is "over my head" it's because I am just not bright enough to get it, or because it's too complicated for me. Quantum physics is pretty much over my head. If I say it, it's an acknowledgement that I can't know everything. If somebody else says it about me, it could be an insult, or not. Depends on how they say it.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: [email protected]

Send comments about this website to:

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright 2018 STM Reader, LLC.

Best Topics: crazy kitten first secular nation vertical traffic lights shin dent mead vs ale muhammad ali iq visual basic imports temporary web hosting regent jarts tom hulce imdb storm glass accuracy aluminum on fire how to mount a poster on foam core why does the military say niner broken foot pain years later parts is parts commercial medical billing time limits songs in minor keys why do goats make weird noises aqua teen hunger force carl quotes how many carbs are in bacardi rum if the good lord's willing and the creek don't rise