Varying Degrees of Stupid

By Maeve Maddox

As I browse the Web, skimming comments on various topics, one word comes up again and again: stupid.

There’s no end of people or things that some grump somewhere is calling stupid in speech or in writing. For example:

The government is stupid.
Women are stupid.
Men are stupid.
April Fool’s Day is stupid.
Handwriting is stupid.
Classical music is stupid.
Riding a bicycle is stupid.

What a waste!

English speakers are blessed with dozens of words that convey numerous shades of stupidity.

First, let’s look at the meaning of stupid. Some speakers regard it as the opposite of intelligent, but that’s misleading. Intelligent people often say and do stupid things.

Stupid derives from the Latin adjective stupidus, which in turn comes from the Latin verb stupere, “to be stunned or benumbed.” English stupid is still used with that meaning. For example, a person might be “stupid from a blow to the head,” “stupid with grief,” “stupid with sleep,” “stupid from lack of sleep,” or “stupid with drink.” In these contexts, the stupidity is temporary. It refers to an impaired ability to think and react normally.

More commonly, applied to a person, stupid means “slow of mental perception.” A stupid person is slow-witted, lacking in quickness of mind. Applied to an idea or a thing, stupid means that the thing is dull, uninteresting, or ill-considered.

Numerous synonyms for stupid exist.

When the intention is to point out a lapse of judgment or careful thought, these are useful options in serious discussions of literature, personal relationships, and public affairs:

unintelligent
foolish
vacuous
vapid
obtuse
nonsensical
unwise
injudicious
inane
absurd
fatuous
asinine
unthinking
ill-advised
ill-considered
ludicrous
ridiculous
laughable
risible

Some terms common in colloquial speech are considered inappropriate for formal use because they derive from terms once used to describe types of mental deficiencies. For example:

idiotic
imbecilic
moronic
cretinous

Note: The words ignorant and dumb are also used colloquially to mean “mentally slow,” but they are unfortunate choices. Everyone is ignorant in some areas. All ignorant means is “lacking in knowledge.” Likewise, dumb has a meaning unrelated to intellectual ability: “unable to speak.” An intelligent, well-informed person may for some reason lack the ability to speak.

Some words that name impaired thinking also connote ridicule and disdain:

dense
doltish
thick, thickheaded
dim, dimwitted
dopey
dozy
pea-brained
half-witted
brain-dead
bone-headed
daft
crazy
cracked
half-baked
dimwitted
cockeyed
harebrained
lamebrained
nutty
batty cuckoo
simple-minded
loony
loopy

Finally a few adjectives convey the idea of stupidity without the sting of ridicule—among friends, at least. Here are some:

daft
dopey
dozy
scatter-brained
nutty
batty
cuckoo
loony
loopy

Admission: Even with all these options, sometimes stupid is the only word that satisfies the feelings of the speaker. For example, “This stupid app keeps crashing!”

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3 Responses to “Varying Degrees of Stupid”

  • Nancy R.

    Wonderful lists of “stupid” alternatives, Maeve.
    Here’s what I hate: “He’s stupid rich!” “That meal was stupid delicious!”
    “Stupid” seems to have been kidnapped for use as an adverb.
    This is stupid scary! (I didn’t write that.)

  • CTMoore

    from the title today I thought I would find you addressing these: stupider vs. more stupid and stupidest vs. most stupid.
    Thanks.

  • thebluebird11

    When I first saw the title of the post in my inbox, I was expecting something along the lines of “stupid, stupider, stupidest.” As in “varying degrees of stupid.” But I like the list of synonyms just as well.
    @Nancy: When considering the alternatives to stupid, I would rather hear “That was mad delicious” or “He is mad rich.” People just kidnap words all the time. Now sick is good and mad means very in a very attractive way. This is what makes English great!

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