Saturday, 19 October 2013

Brawn - "Strong in the Arm & Thick in the Head"

Photo by BgMslDudes


Noun & verb. Middle English.
[Anglo-Norman braun, Old French braon fleshy part especially of the hind leg, from Germanic (Old High German brato, German Braten roast flesh; compare with synonymous Old English bræde, and brædan to roast).]

A1(a) noun. Muscle, lean flesh, especially of the arm, leg, or thumb; loosely muscularity, physical strength. ME

A1(b) noun. obsolete. The arm, calf, or buttock. LME-M19

A2 noun. Boar's flesh as food. Now usually specifically pig's head etc. boiled, chopped and moulded. LME

A3 noun. obsolete. The flesh of other animals as food. LME-M17

A4 noun. A boar fattened for the table. obsolete except dialectical. LME

A5 noun. obsolete. Calloused skin. M16-M17

B1(a) verb trans. obsolete. Harden, make callous. L16-M17

B2(b) verb trans. & intrans. Fatten (a boar), (of a boar) grow fat, for the table. Now rare or obsolete. L16

Also: brawner noun (obsolete except dialectical) a boar fattened for the table. M17


Adjective. Late Middle English.
[from BRAWN noun + -Y.]

1 Characterized by brawn; strong, muscular. LME

2 Calloused, hardened. Now rare or obsolete. L16

Also: brawniness noun M17

Brawn is a funny word and concept in English, as there's often a tacit assumption that if you're brawny, you're not that bright. In fact, it's hardly tacit at all, enshrined in such sayings as: "He's all brawn and no brains," or even more directly (and with a touch of cultural elitism thrown in): "Yorkshire born and Yorkshire bred; strong in't arm and thick in't head." That assumption is just a tad unfair; after all, who's to say that the beefcake in our main picture doesn't hold a Ph.D in Advanced Theoretical Physics? (though I bet he doesn't). The brains vs. brawn idea also fires many fun and pointless debates over which women prefer; scientific studies have been conducted on it (brains win, apparently), and agony aunts have even pondered over such charming questions as: "I like a guy who's smart but a bit of a weed - would he be a good mate from a biological and evolutionary perspective?" However, brains and brawn are not completely incompatible, and there are plenty of famous examples of men that had both: Ernest Hemingway, for one, who was both a great writer and a seasoned adventurer. Or perhaps Sir Roger Bannister, the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes before going on to become a celebrated neurologist. These are exceptional examples, of course, but there are plenty of others mixing up the gene pool, including those that do only have brawn or brains and, yes, those that have neither.

Woman, Muscles, Brawn, Brawny
Curiously, it's not a debate men have very often
(photo by SS Cusp)

So, after all that, which is it: brains or brawn?

Do please leave your weightiest comments below.


  1. A bit of brains and a bit of brawn is a good balance, but not as much brawn as your man above...that would just waste my massage oil :-)

  2. Call me a skeptic, but it's hard to believe that the brawny man above is truly that size.

    Personally, a little bit of brawn (not as much as above) might be attractive for a time, but brains can be a source of companionship, and sex appeal even, for much longer! Yet, I cannot deny the appeal of a nice set of muscles.

    1. Yeah ... good form is one thing, but the above ... well ... it starts to get a little freakish after a certain level.