30 Ways to Say, “You’re Stupid”

From Daily Writing Tips:

I’ve been bingeing on the Shetland mysteries by Ann Cleeves and have finished them all. The novels are set in the Shetland islands to the extreme north of the UK. One of the many enjoyable features is the realistic dialogue, replete with dialect words and British idioms. I encountered several words, some of them insults, that sent me to the dictionary.

In researching insults in general, I came to realize that English provides an astounding number of ways to show contempt for our fellow creatures—too many for a single post.

I shall begin with thirty words used to insult the intelligence.

Compounds involving the head

One way is to form a compound with head, brain, skull, or wit:

NOTE: The definition of wit referenced in these compounds is “The faculty of thinking and reasoning in general.”


Words for mental conditions
Some words used to call a person stupid or foolish were or, in some contexts still are, medical or legal terms. The Ngram viewer shows all of these especially offensive insults understandably declining—until the 2000s, when they began climbing. The word idiot shows an especially dramatic spurt as we enter the age of incivility at the highest levels.

idiot: A person so profoundly disabled in mental function or intellect as to be incapable of ordinary acts of reasoning or rational conduct; specifically a person permanently so affected, as distinguished from one with a temporary severe mental illness.

imbecile: (Latin imbecillus “weak, feeble, delicate, fragile, ineffective, lacking intellectual or moral strength”) Of a person: mentally weak or deficient; lacking in intelligence or intellectual ability; stupid, foolish, idiotic. Sometimes used with the medical meaning of “suffering from mental retardation, typically of a moderate or severe degree,” but now largely disused and often considered offensive.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

If you’re not familiar with the Ngram Viewer, it’s a Google Books project you can find here.

6 thoughts on “30 Ways to Say, “You’re Stupid””

  1. I’ve never, ever heard the word chowderhead. And the OP seems to have no notion that there is no such thing as a ‘British dialect’. Here in Scotland, Scots itself is a distinct language with a long and distinguished history – not Scots Gaelic, which is another language altogether – but within Scotland there are also many, many different dialects. Fife is different from Ayrshire. Glasgow is very different from Aberdeen. And Shetland owes more to Scandinavia! Similarly the variations in England are numerous too, with many regional dialects.

    • As in genres, dialects can be almost infinitely divided. If the language (English) is “fiction,” the British dialect of English is something like, say, “fantasy”, as opposed to the American dialect of English being “science fiction.” (Reverse that if you wish, although I intend no disparagement of either one with the analogy.)

      You can then break it down (and pretty much want to, at least when it comes to broad genres!) to arrive at a smaller subset. So, there is an American/Southeast/Georgia/Atlanta dialect of English – which is different from the American/Northwest/Washington/Seattle dialect.

    • Agreed about the “British dialect,” Catherine.

      I have had no problem understanding what I believe is referred to as R.P. or Received Pronunciation, but a Welsh accent is a different experience altogether.

      • Try living Over There as a government official of the former colonies (and, therefore, sneered at for your American-equivalent-of-RP accent — one that you’ve worked very hard at over the years to hide the artifacts of your first language — by everybody). Regional dialects and vocabulary are fascinatingly confusing; Geordie versus Mackem, Anglian versus Home Counties, Glaswegian against everyone…

      • As a student I spent one summer in Wales on a rescue dig near Mt. Snowdon. At the time, most of the younger folk had reasonable English, but not their parents, and all were shy about the non-Welsh strangers on the dig site. The soft consonants, the lilt, the sheer musicality of the language came through from both sets of speakers.

        And what a thrill it was when one evening at the rural pub a busload of contestants came thru returning (not as winners, alas) from the recent Eisteddfodau and did a bit of impromptu choral singing for us.

        On that same trip I found myself on a train from York to London in the company of a grand old fellow from the Dales. He chatted in a friendly fashion to me for the whole three hours, and not only could I not follow him, I couldn’t even get the gist of his stories. Made trying to understand my mother’s Flemish acquaintances seem easier by comparison. (I was especially chagrinned, since by then I had a fair ear for folk-song/-tale from a variety of English, Scottish, and Irish native sources — didn’t expect to be completely stumped by Yorkshire.)

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