I know you are but what am I
Uncertain, but dates back at least to the 1960s, and was featured in Alan Arkin’s Academy Award-winning short film “People Soup” from 1969. The short stars Arkin’s sons. After older brother calls his younger brother a rat, the younger replies with “I know you are, but what am I?” The phrase is often attributed to Pee-Wee Herman.
- (rhetorical question, colloquial, childish) Assertion that an insult made by the party to whom the phrase is directed is actually true of that party, and not of the person using the phrase. Usually considered to be a playground taunt.
- 1984, McCall's, volume 111, page 62:
- I know you are but what am I? Jeannie would say out loud, whenever I mouthed a name at her.
- 2003, Mark E. Jones, Echoes of Heaven, page 7:
- At this point Johnny changes tactics and hollers, "I know you are, but what am I?" and the voice echoes, "I know you are, but what am I?"
- 2005, American Numismatic Association, The Numismatist, page 14:
- So when Mr. Macchia states that people who collect state quarters are fools, my son says I should reply, "I know you are, but what am I?"