by Liz Walter
There are many different ways of saying that someone is stupid, depending on factors such as who you are talking to, whether or not you care about offending someone, or how serious you are being.
We can describe someone who has trouble understanding things as slow or dim, but note that we almost always put words like a bit or rather in front of these words: Her husband’s a bit dim. My pupils were rather slow. A kinder way of describing a student who isn’t doing well is to use the verb struggle: My daughter struggles with maths. She’s struggling at school.
In English, it is common to express critical ideas by using positive words in negative sentences. We say things such as: He’s not that bright. She’s not the sharpest pupil I’ve ever taught. They are the less intelligent ones.
As with most difficult subjects, we often use humour to talk about stupidity. Again using negative forms, we say that someone is no Einstein, or that a person doesn’t have much between the ears or isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer/in the block.
Some of the phrases we use to talk about stupid people have many different forms. For example, we can say that someone is a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic, a few bricks short of a load, or a few cents short of a nickel. The speaker is also free to invent other variations. As long as the phrase follows the general structure x short of a y, the meaning is clear.
Foolish and silly are both slightly softer ways of saying ‘stupid’, but they would not be used in a situation that is really serious. For real emphasis, you could use a strong word such as idiotic, or even the colourful British idiom as thick as two short planks.
There may seem to be endless ways of saying that someone is stupid, but Einstein himself was reported to have said ‘Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.’