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No tener dos dedos de frente – Misunderstood expression of the week

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Tener dos dedos de frente” is a common Spanish phrase used to say that someone is smart and levelheaded. As you might have guessed, “no tener dos dedos de frente” means the exact opposite: ‘not to be very smart‘ or, as Donald Trump would say, ‘to be dumb as a rock‘. The literal meaning, however, is ‘not to have a two-finger forehead‘ (in other words, to have a forehead that measures less than two fingers – placed sideways – in height).

This expression may seem startling at first (what has the size of your forehead got to do with your intelligence?), but let me remind you about some of the ideas regarding the brain and the mind that were extremely popular throughout the 19th century.

Phrenology (from Ancient Greek φρήν (phrēn), meaning ‘mind’, and λόγος (logos), meaning ‘knowledge’) was a discipline developed by German physician Franz Joseph Gall in 1796 – although some of his ideas actually date back to Ancient Egypt and Greece!

Phrenology is today recognized as a pseudoscience, but it became very influential between 1810 and 1840. It was based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions. Both of those ideas have a basis in reality, but phrenology extrapolated beyond empirical knowledge in a way that departed from science.

Imagen relacionadaOne of the main beliefs of phrenology was that intellectual capacity corresponds to the size of the skull. Because the area responsible for intelligence was thought to be located at the front of the head, just behind the forehead, having a large forehead was a sign of intelligence and lucidity, whereas having a small forehead meant that one was dumb.

In fact, French writer Victor Hugo, who lived between 1802 and 1885, is said to have been very proud of his large forehead, which he thought was a sign of intelligence (and, like him, many others!).

These beliefs probably gave rise to the Spanish expression “(no) tener dos dedos de frente“, which is still commonly used nowadays!

Can you think of a sentence using the phrase “no tener dos dedos de frente“? Let us know in the comments below!


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1 Comment

  1. Russell

    I think it’s absolutely amazing.