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Max Gowan
November 13, 2023
Reading time
2 min read

How to use polite alternatives for calling someone "dumb" in English

In this article, we'll explore the art of calling someone "dumb" in English in a more polite way — the right way.
How to use polite alternatives for calling someone "dumb" in English

How to use polite alternatives for calling someone "dumb" in English

We all know that calling someone "dumb," "stupid," or "dimwitted" isn't exactly nice, polite, or politically correct. But let's face it, there are times when certain individuals make us want to use those words. So, how can we express our thoughts tactfully? In this article, we'll explore the art of calling someone "dumb" in English in a more polite way — the right way.

Finding polite alternatives

When it comes to addressing someone’s lack of intelligence, we can choose our words carefully. Instead of straightforwardly saying, "You're so dumb," we can opt for alternative phrases that convey the same message while maintaining a level of politeness. For instance, we can say, "You're as sharp as a marble," or playfully remark, "You're so dopey!"

A silly character from the seven dwarves (dopey)

These alternatives allow us to express our thoughts without resorting to offensive language.

"Obtuse": A subtle jibe at understanding

Looking further, we discover that certain words have hidden nuances that can be used to call out someone's lack of intelligence in a more sophisticated manner. One such word is "obtuse." Not only does it describe a person who lacks sharpness, but it also implies that concepts often go over their head. It's like saying the information they receive is too difficult for them to comprehend.

For example, you could say, "I listened carefully, but I was too obtuse to understand the technical jargon."

Man looking confused

By using "obtuse," you cleverly convey your point while maintaining a level of subtlety.

Diving into descriptive words

Another avenue for expressing our thoughts on someone's intelligence is through descriptive words that suggest a lack of thought or intelligence. One such word is "vacuous." This term indicates that someone shows a lack of depth or critical thinking.

For example, you might say, "I thought you were smart when we first met. Now that I've had time to get to know you, I realize that you're vacuous!"

Man looking disappointed

This choice of words allows you to convey your observations while keeping the tone conversational.

Consider the context

While it's essential to explore alternative ways to address someone's intelligence, it's equally important to be mindful of the context in which we use such expressions. Certain words and phrases may cause offense or hurt feelings, so it's crucial to know your audience and choose your words accordingly.

For instance, words like "silly," "foolish," "childish," and "unintelligent" can be used in informal settings, such as with friends, family, or peers. Parents often employ these words when correcting their children's behavior.

A father being silly with his child

However, it's essential to exercise caution and avoid using these expressions in professional or business settings to maintain a respectful atmosphere.

Humorous expressions

Sometimes, a touch of humor can help soften the impact of our words while still conveying the intended message. Ready-made expressions provide us with an arsenal of playful yet pointed remarks. For instance, we can say, "You're not the sharpest tool in the shed," or "You're not the brightest apple in the bunch."

Person looking disappointedly at friend

These sarcastic phrases highlight the fact that someone has said or done something less than intelligent.

Being mindful of impact

While it can be tempting to resort to certain phrases or expressions to describe someone's intelligence, it's important to exercise sensitivity and awareness. Certain words, such as "slow," when used inappropriately, can be insensitive and offensive, particularly to individuals with disabilities. It's crucial to consider the impact of our words and strive to maintain a respectful and inclusive environment.

Child showing respect


There are many ways to call someone "dumb" in English, and while it is difficult to be polite when insulting someone, using some of the examples above can at least help you voice your opinion tactfully. English provides us with endless options to express ourselves creatively while maintaining a level of poise and discretion.