The brain is the powerhouse organ of the human body that controls all of its life functions. In English, it can be used as a standard medical term, but it can also be used in many idioms associated with intelligence and thinking. Let’s look at some common collocations using this word!
1. TO BRAINSTORM
To spend time, usually with a group of people, spontaneously producing many ideas or solutions to a problem. You could literally think of a “storm” of ideas brewing in one’s brain.
A: I’M THINKING OF GETTING A NEW DOG SOON, BUT I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO NAME IT.
B: HMM, DO YOU WANT TO BRAINSTORM SOME NAMES?
2. BRAIN TEASER
A small problem or puzzle meant to confuse the brain (or literally “tease” the brain), usually meant for entertainment. Riddles are a good example.
A: IMAGINE YOU’RE A BUS DRIVER. YOUR BUS STARTS OFF WITH THREE PEOPLE. AT THE FIRST STOP, FIVE PEOPLE GET ON THE BUS. AT THE SECOND STOP, HALF OF THE PEOPLE GET OFF THE BUS. AT THE THIRD STOP, THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE TRIPLES. NOW, WHAT COLOR IS THE BUS DRIVER’S EYES?
B: I THINK I’VE HEARD THIS BRAIN TEASER BEFORE.
A very easy question to answer or task to accomplish. In other words, something that requires “no brain” to figure out.
A: WHICH ONE IS THE ABSENCE OF COLOR? WHITE OR BLACK?
B: OH, THIS ONE’S A NO-BRAINER. IT’S BLACK.
4. TO BRAINWASH
To manipulate the way a person thinks by continually feeding them a certain type of stimulus or putting them in a certain environment.
Brainwashing usually carries a negative connotation, and the word is often used in conspiracy theories that accuse organizations or governments of distorting the way people view reality.
A: YOU NEED TO READ THIS NEW ARTICLE I FOUND ON NORTH KOREA.
B: ANOTHER ONE? I FEEL LIKE YOU’RE JUST TRYING TO BRAINWASH ME AT THIS POINT.
5. TO PICK SOMEONE’S BRAIN(S)
To receive information by asking someone about a subject they know about better than you do.
Just as you can pick berries from a bush or fruit from a true, you could imagine someone “picking” knowledge from someone else.
As a medical term, this refers to someone who has literally suffered brain death.
As an informal term, it can refer either to something very stupid or to someone who cannot think as well as usual because of fatigue, boredom, etc.
A: TO BE HONEST, I FELT SO BRAIN-DEAD AFTER LISTENING TO THOSE PEOPLE TALK FOR AN HOUR.
B: YEAH, IT WAS A COMPLETELY BRAIN-DEAD TOPIC, TOO.
A: ARE YOU OKAY? YOU LOOKED BRAIN-DEAD DURING CLASS TODAY.
B: YEAH, I’M JUST TIRED.
7. TO RACK ONE’S BRAIN(S)
To concentrate hard in order to think of or remember something.
A: WHAT’S THE NAME OF THE HAIR STYLIST YOU LAST WENT TO?
B: OH, I FORGET. I’M GONNA HAVE TO RACK MY BRAIN A BIT TO REMEMBER.
8. THE BRAINS BEHIND…
This refers to someone who has secretly (or without acknowledgment) organized or created an event or spectacle.
Just as our body is controlled by our brain, which we cannot see, there is often a hidden “brain” behind many things displayed for people to see.
This expression is another way of referring to someone who has orchestrated something “behind the scenes.”
A: THIS HAS BEEN QUITE A SUCCESSFUL EVENT, I SEE.
B: IT HAS! WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO INTRODUCE YOU TO THE BRAINS BEHINDTHE MAGIC?
9. BRAIN DAMAGE
Literally, damage to the brain. Usually this damage is permanent and caused by some sort of injury.
A: DID YOU KNOW THAT VACCINES CAN CAUSE BRAIN DAMAGE?
B: I THINK THAT’S JUST A HOAX. WHERE DID YOU HEAR THIS?
10. BRAIN + TO REEL
If your brain is reeling, it means that your mind is overwhelmed or confused from thinking about too much at once. You can also say that your mind is reeling.
11. LEFT-BRAINED VS. RIGHT-BRAINED
These terms have recently become popular in pop psychology* in explaining people’s personalities and ways of thinking.
The terms derive from an actual division of the brain into left and right hemispheres, though the traits associated with each are not necessarily scientifically accurate.
In pop psychology, the left brain is associated with logical, mathematical, and linguistic thinking, while the right brain is associated with creative, intuitive, and emotional thinking.
* Pop psychology is short for popular psychology. It encompasses ideas that are purportedly based on actual psychology but more popular among the general public than actual psychologists.
12. A BRAIN FOR…
If you have a brain for something (usually a certain way of thinking), it means you have an unusually high aptitude for it, or that your brain is well suited for it.
Mary Jane Go has been teaching English for over 13 years. She believes that it is very important to learn English and learn it by heart. For her, it's always the right time for a dance party and that hanging out with friends is indispensable.