Could somebody explain to me the difference between “dumb” and “stupid” ? As French person, there isn’t many differences !

  • isn't much difference or aren't many differences !
    – stangdon
    Mar 20 at 12:01

2 Answers 2


There isn't much difference between dumb and stupid when referring to intelligence. Dumb is probably more of an insult, while stupid can refer to a temporary state such as drunken insensibility, but English has a very large number of terms for a lack of intelligence, which typically differ less in meaning than offensiveness and appropriateness. Of these, stupid is one of the most common in many contexts, and less likely to be offensive than alternatives. If you must say that someone lacks intelligence, stupid is probably the most suitable word.

Merriam-Webster offers a usage note which says these words mean "mean lacking in power to absorb ideas or impressions." It suggests dumb refers to "an exasperating obtuseness or lack of comprehension" while stupid refers to "a slow-witted or dazed state of mind that may be either congenital or temporary". So if it is a temporary state, then stupid is more appropriate, but both words are typically used to imply a permanent state of lack of intellectual ability.

Dumb is problematic because historically it also meant mute, i.e. incapable of speech, and this usage is now considered offensive (Merriam-Webster). Because being unable to speak is not correlated with being stupid. While I would hope nobody uses dumb to mean mute, this has tainted the use of dumb in other contexts, such that people may find it offensive. (Similarly, other terms for lack of intelligence like moron can be problematic because of their historical use in psychology or medicine: moron formerly referred to milder forms of intellectual disability.)

Stupid has largely escaped these taints, and can be used in formal contexts (insofar as calling someone stupid is ever polite). In contrast, Merriam-Webster points to the "exasperating" quality of being dumb, hence its use as an insult.

One of the main uses in which dumb is still used these days is in the expression dumbing down, meaning to lower the difficulty, intellectual content, or educational level of something - often used to criticize mass media and popular culture for encouraging a low level of discourse.

  • 1
    While it is no longer considered appropriate for deaf-mute people, in British English the primary meaning of dumb is still 'temporarily unable or unwilling to speak' - see Cambridge Dictionary. Mar 20 at 12:46
  • 1
    I would add that for a considerable part of my lifetime (born 1952) dumb for stupid was a mainly American English term, and in British English it meant 'mute', that is, either temporarily or permanently unable to speak. Mar 20 at 13:12

The term dumb would insinuate ignorance. Someone who doesnt have knowledge of, or is unfamiliar with a consequence or action result. Basically its a explicit derogatory of the term ignorant. Being called ignorant isnt pleasant either but the term is often used more as an insult than an insinuation for lack of intellect in a given circumstance.

Stupid-ity is more of an action based word. In other words you cant really be referred to as stupid unless to perform and action or circumstance where one knew the risks and the potential of consequence and performed the action or circumstance anyway. One can break the law by performing a knowingly illegal act and disregarded the consequences thus they were stupid. A perfect example of this would be from the movie Forrest Gump. He wasnt stupid, he was just literally dumb. When people asked if he was stupid (because of something he did or said) he said “stupid is as stupid does”, thus points out that stupidity is derived from an action of disregarded consequence or otherwise

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