Definition of dumb in English:



  • 1predicative Temporarily unable or unwilling to speak.

    ‘she stood dumb while he poured out a stream of abuse’
    speechless, tongue-tied, wordless, silent, at a loss for words, voiceless, inarticulate, taciturn, uncommunicative, untalkative, tight-lipped, close-mouthed, saying nothing
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    1. 1.1attributive Resulting in or expressed by speechlessness.
      ‘they stared in dumb amazement’
      • ‘We stared at her in dumb amazement before we burst out laughing.’
      speechless, tongue-tied, wordless, silent, at a loss for words, voiceless, inarticulate, taciturn, uncommunicative, untalkative, tight-lipped, close-mouthed, saying nothing
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  • 2dated, offensive (of a person) unable to speak, most typically because of congenital deafness.

    ‘he was born deaf, dumb, and blind’
    mute, unable to speak, without the power of speech
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    1. 2.1 (of animals) unable to speak as a natural state and thus regarded as helpless or deserving pity.
  • 3North American informal Stupid.

    ‘a dumb question’
    • ‘Throughout the years, I've had personal contact with some folks that were heavy dope smokers and I always thought they were just extra dumb or extra stupid.’
    • ‘I'll never do it again, because it was stupid and irresponsible and dumb, and I could have seriously gotten hurt or something.’
    • ‘Right away, Andrew knew what a dumb question he was asking.’
    • ‘Don't you get one day of declaring your candidacy for the White House before you have to answer a dumb, horse-race question like that?’
    • ‘They taunt me the most though, they call me stupid and dumb because for my own reasons I pretend not to know the Latin language.’
    • ‘It was a bit of a dumb question, but she needed to ask it.’
    • ‘I couldn't tell if he was being stupid, dumb, or idiotic.’
    • ‘He wasn't their guardian by any means, but he wasn't about to let two stupid kids make a dumb decision.’
    • ‘I asked him the usual dumb question about how he took criticism and reviews, and he gave an interesting answer.’
    • ‘I hope next time they call, I will be in, so I can ask them really dumb questions and see how stupid I can get away with sounding.’
    • ‘‘You're so slow and stupid and dumb,’ she grumbled, opening it and taking out a pencil.’
    • ‘She knew she was being dumb and stupid, acting like a little girl.’
    • ‘And I suppose it's a bit of a dumb question, but why are fewer companies offering this?’
    • ‘Those briefings you will remember was where we had dozens and dozens and dozens of new reporters come into the Pentagon who were asking frankly dumb questions.’
    • ‘It's too late to ask dumb philosophical questions.’
    • ‘It was what had pushed him over the edge, and he was missing now because of her dumb, stupid, irrational comment.’
    • ‘The best answer to those two questions is: those are two really dumb questions; enough hot air has been expended in their name already.’
    • ‘For some strange, dumb, stupid, pathetic reason, I started laughing.’
    • ‘Do they consider people they have outsmarted or manipulated as dumb or stupid?’
    • ‘If they calmly endure his dumb questions and stubborn incomprehension they may end up looking silly, and if they show their irritation they risk coming across as jerks.’
    stupid, unintelligent, ignorant, dense, brainless, mindless, foolish, slow-witted, slow, dull, dull-witted, witless, half-witted, blockish, doltish, dunce-like, simple, simple-minded, empty-headed, vacuous, vapid, idiotic, moronic, imbecilic, cretinous, obtuse, bovine, lumpish
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  • 4(of a computer terminal) able only to transmit data to or receive data from a computer; having no independent processing capability.

    Often contrasted with intelligent
    • ‘They are excellent replacements for dumb serial terminals, X terminals and older PCs.’
    • ‘I remember playing this one on a dumb DEC terminal connected to a mainframe somewhere; I just can't remember what it was called.’
    • ‘It is essentially just a dumb program spitting out information that it is given to pass on.’
    • ‘Their interaction with it was by predetermined procedures or, at the very most, a dumb terminal with as little power and privilege we could give them.’
    • ‘In other words, it is a node between the dumb router and smart layer control elements that not only touches some of the packet but is involved in more of a control plane manner.’
    • ‘Users could access this centralized computer only by means of dumb terminals.’
    • ‘The system was accessed by way of dumb terminals and, later, terminal emulators on PCs.’
    • ‘Why are we still using the equivalent of a dumb block-mode mainframe terminal to connect ourselves to the Internet?’
    • ‘The hardware that was in use, two PCs and 15 dumb terminals, could handle only data entry.’


[with object]
  • 1dumb downinformal Simplify or reduce the intellectual content of something so as to make it accessible to a larger number of people.

    ‘the producers categorically deny that they're dumbing down the show’
    • ‘Like the programme itself, the music has been dumbed down until it just about holds an essence of the original without any of the emotion.’
    • ‘I absolutely disagree that it has been dumbed down.’
    • ‘It insults our intelligence, dumbs the global experience down for us into easily digestible particles, and lies when it could really enlighten.’
    • ‘While maintaining a level of accessibility and providing information are important, this must not dumb the work down, compromise the artists' intentions, or remove the challenge aspect of art that many people thrive on.’
    • ‘By dogmatically employing ‘news values’ that focus on conflict, drama and simplicity, we get the political stakes raised to the point where political leaders are induced into playing the game of dumbing it down to win the media war.’
    • ‘But, at the same time, we were not interested in dumbing things down.’
    • ‘If they've dumbed it down or diluted it, it's finished.’
    • ‘On the other hand, if 200 million people read a book, you can be sure that the reason is that the novel has been dumbed down to a low common denominator that can accommodate such a large percentage of the population.’
    • ‘Still, it's important to have real scientists getting the word out, explaining results, not letting popularizers dumb it down, and not letting people leap to conclusions.’
    • ‘Even though summer means tourist in Boston, I don't dumb the wines down though I do look for flavors that are accessible.’
    • ‘I have made it clear to the board that what we are not going to do is dumb the hospital down.’
    • ‘The controls aren't as easy as they were on the previous games, it's very dark and to be honest I think they have dumbed it down too much, too many hints and clues for my liking, making it far too easy to progress through.’
    • ‘What they do with these questionnaires, is they dumb the questionnaires down, as the level of intelligence of the population collapses.’
    • ‘How did you make the book accessible without dumbing it down?’
    • ‘Anything that doesn't dumb it down but makes it more accessible to people is doing a really good job in my eyes.’
    • ‘The narrator was calm, clear and educated, there were no unnecessary flashy graphics and above all it wasn't dumbed down.’
    • ‘However their experience is depressing: ideas are dumbed down, creativity ignored, and people trashed.’
    • ‘I have become an expert at dumbing things down, but there are facts that won't simplify no matter how much the user wants them to.’
    • ‘Of course, since my essay writing style is just as pretentious as it was throughout school and university, it wasn't too bad to cut it down a bit, I just had to dumb my work down a little!’
    • ‘Unfortunately the combat method has been dumbed down - where once you could string together dextrous sword-fighting moves, now it's just a bludgeoning affair.’
    make simple, make simpler, make easier to do, make easier to understand, make easy to do, make easy to understand, make plainer, clarify, make more comprehensible, make more intelligible, remove the complexities from, disentangle, untangle, unravel
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    1. 1.1dumb downno object Become less intellectually challenging.
      ‘the need to dumb down for mass audiences’
      • ‘UK education ministers continually assert that the education system is not dumbing down - pupils are getting smarter.’
      • ‘The reason why dumbing down and tabloid trivialisation is so widespread is that it works.’
      • ‘No-one has ever shown any net benefit to my knowledge - though there is plenty of evidence that it leads to dumbing down.’
      • ‘I certainly wouldn't recommend dumbing down in the name of accessibility.’
      • ‘Instead of voluntary dumbing down, there's a steady process of public self-enlightenment.’
      • ‘The show's success bolsters his theory that popular culture, far from dumbing down, is smartening up.’
      • ‘I simply don't believe in dumbing down - it makes me angry.’
      • ‘The lunch menu dumbs down slightly to make the most of passing trade, but the beetroot and horseradish risotto with honey-glazed goat's cheese is still a few notches up from a scone and jam.’
      • ‘So-called marketing experts keep telling me I'll need to dumb down to really capture the mass market but it's simply not in my nature.’
      • ‘The ultimate result of dumbing down is not, as its champions would no doubt want to claim, the collapse of cultural hierarchy and privilege.’
      • ‘Change is dumbing down to the people who have an interest in what was there.’
      • ‘It is not about dumbing down, it is about presenting ourselves in the best possible way.’
      • ‘What I'm talking about here is a tried and tested tabloid approach: dumb down, sex up and sensationalise.’
      • ‘It all went pear shaped around the second half of 1990 when the Big Bloke bought the network back and the wilful dumbing down began with a vengeance.’
      • ‘There is no future for a university that dumbs down for short-term gain.’
      • ‘Nods to popular culture have brought inevitable cries of dumbing down but if anything they makes the quiz even more troublesome.’
      • ‘It was trashy, sleazy and every other adjective associated with dumbing down.’
      • ‘To use a phrase that's no longer particularly popular any more, the show has dumbed down.’
      • ‘And how much does television have to do with it, that maligned medium always associated with dumbing down?’
      • ‘The most generic blurb about media art is that boredom dumbs down while entertainment enlightens.’
  • 2literary Make dumb or unheard; silence.

    ‘a splendour that dazed the mind and dumbed the tongue’


Although dumb meaning ‘not able to speak’ is the older sense, it has been overwhelmed by the newer sense (meaning ‘stupid’) to such an extent that the use of the first sense is now almost certain to cause offence. Alternatives such as speech-impaired should be used instead


  • dumb luck

    • Pure chance.

      ‘finally, through dumb luck, it worked and I got a network connection’
      • ‘I got the job half by dumb luck, and half by knowing what I'm doing.’
      • ‘But he chafes at the title, since he knows his bravery was just dumb luck.’
      • ‘This reduces a political leader to a gambler who must depend on good timing and dumb luck to take him where he wants to go.’
      • ‘But Jonathan and Sara sense they are drawn to one another by more than dumb luck or blind chance.’
      • ‘She escaped, a circumstance she attributes to dumb luck rather than divine intervention.’
      • ‘Don't blame yourself, as this time dumb luck has been beaten out of site by sheer stupidity and you can't guard against that.’
      • ‘Just my dumb luck that my shower doesn't work.’
      • ‘I found a good opportunity and after multiple rejections of my business plan, stumbled by dumb luck into my current business partner.’
      • ‘It was plain dumb luck that the grenade hadn't exploded on its own or that my brother-in-law hadn't released the arming lever.’
      • ‘They depend also, to no small extent, on sheer dumb luck.’
  • play dumb

    • Pretend to be unintelligent or unaware in order to deceive someone or gain an advantage.

      ‘‘Hide what?’ Aubrey said, still playing dumb’
      • ‘He kept putting me off, and I kept teasing him, playing dumb.’
      • ‘Of course I understood what he meant right away, but it's easy to play dumb when you're speaking different languages.’
      • ‘Ryan inquired with false innocence, in a particularly piteous attempt to play dumb.’
      • ‘It's too much work for me to play dumb.’
      • ‘You know what I'm talking about, don't play dumb with me.’
      • ‘He tried playing dumb, hoping David would just leave it alone.’
      • ‘The audience is never asked to play dumb; we are rarely a step ahead of Mannix.’
      • ‘I'm at their mercy, so I play dumb.’
      • ‘I yelled at him, losing any control I had remaining, " Stop playing dumb!’
      • ‘Bryce was no dope, he should have figured it out, maybe he was just playing dumb.’


Old English, of Germanic origin; related to Old Norse dumbr and Gothic dumbs ‘mute’, also to Dutch dom ‘stupid’ and German dumm ‘stupid’.