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How good is this compliment? When should you use it instead of saying you are smart or clever?

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  • They're admiring the chunk of lettuce in your basket at the grocery store.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 20:34
  • I would take it as a warning not to trade it in for a new one.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 18:31

4 Answers 4

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High praise. It's a metaphorical use of head to mean what's contained within -- brains and the good sense to use them.

Also heard:

You have a good head on your shoulders.
You have a good head for [a particular subject].

For example, from The Ponca Tribe by J. H. Howard:

[T]he chiefs would appoint the leader. He was selected from among the bravest warriors. He had to have a good head and not to do things rashly or else the whole tribe would suffer.

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  • This answer doesn't address the question of when to prefer clever or smart. The rest is very good, though. Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 4:07
  • Chacun à son goût. Preference here is a matter of opinion.
    – deadrat
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 4:23
  • On the other hand, if someone says "That guy has one hell of a neck on his shoulders" you can assume it's not a complement.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 11:51
  • I beg to differ. One's neck always completes one's shoulders.
    – deadrat
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 15:07
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When someone says "you have a good head for something" they mean you have a natural ability to do something well.

It has the same meaning as "have a knack for something".

If you mean someone shows intelligence and good judgement instead of a special talent, use clever or smart.

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Here are some cases where you might prefer this idiom over a single word, clever or smart.

  1. If you want to convey the "good judgment" part.
  2. If you want to use good head for something (something specific).
  3. If the look and feel (or sound) of an idiomatic expression appeals to you more than a one-word description does -- in the particular context.
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In 1978 I shared the bandstand (on alto saxophone) with trombonist Frank Rosolino in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He had just done a clinic (performing and teaching) at a local high school or college, and this was a jam session which followed that. When I finished playing, he said to me, "You have a good head." I was so flabbergasted to get a compliment from one of the greatest jazz trombonists in the world, that I didn't even ask him what he meant. Probably the above description of "brains and the good sense to use them" (when improvising) would be the best definition.

Sad to say, Frank's life ended tragically later that year.

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    – livresque
    Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 7:49

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