Definition of dumb in US 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’
    • ‘Do they consider people they have outsmarted or manipulated as dumb or stupid?’
    • ‘It was a bit of a dumb question, but she needed to ask it.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘And I suppose it's a bit of a dumb question, but why are fewer companies offering this?’
    • ‘‘You're so slow and stupid and dumb,’ she grumbled, opening it and taking out a pencil.’
    • ‘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?’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Right away, Andrew knew what a dumb question he was asking.’
    • ‘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 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.’
    • ‘It was what had pushed him over the edge, and he was missing now because of her dumb, stupid, irrational comment.’
    • ‘I asked him the usual dumb question about how he took criticism and reviews, and he gave an interesting answer.’
    • ‘It's too late to ask dumb philosophical questions.’
    • ‘She knew she was being dumb and stupid, acting like a little girl.’
    • ‘I'll never do it again, because it was stupid and irresponsible and dumb, and I could have seriously gotten hurt or something.’
    • ‘The best answer to those two questions is: those are two really dumb questions; enough hot air has been expended in their name already.’
    • ‘He wasn't their guardian by any means, but he wasn't about to let two stupid kids make a dumb decision.’
    • ‘I couldn't tell if he was being stupid, dumb, or idiotic.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘For some strange, dumb, stupid, pathetic reason, I started laughing.’
    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
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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?’
    • ‘It is essentially just a dumb program spitting out information that it is given to pass on.’
    • ‘The hardware that was in use, two PCs and 15 dumb terminals, could handle only data entry.’
    • ‘I remember playing this one on a dumb DEC terminal connected to a mainframe somewhere; I just can't remember what it was called.’
    • ‘They are excellent replacements for dumb serial terminals, X terminals and older PCs.’


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

    ‘critics have accused publishers of dumbing down books’
    • ‘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!’
    • ‘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 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.’
    • ‘Anything that doesn't dumb it down but makes it more accessible to people is doing a really good job in my eyes.’
    • ‘But, at the same time, we were not interested in dumbing things 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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘However their experience is depressing: ideas are dumbed down, creativity ignored, and people trashed.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Even though summer means tourist in Boston, I don't dumb the wines down though I do look for flavors that are accessible.’
    • ‘What they do with these questionnaires, is they dumb the questionnaires down, as the level of intelligence of the population collapses.’
    • ‘I absolutely disagree that it has been dumbed down.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘How did you make the book accessible without dumbing it down?’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘It insults our intelligence, dumbs the global experience down for us into easily digestible particles, and lies when it could really enlighten.’
    • ‘The narrator was calm, clear and educated, there were no unnecessary flashy graphics and above all it wasn't dumbed down.’
    • ‘I have made it clear to the board that what we are not going to do is dumb the hospital down.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘If they've dumbed it down or diluted it, it's finished.’
    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’
      • ‘What I'm talking about here is a tried and tested tabloid approach: dumb down, sex up and sensationalise.’
      • ‘Change is dumbing down to the people who have an interest in what was there.’
      • ‘No-one has ever shown any net benefit to my knowledge - though there is plenty of evidence that it leads to dumbing down.’
      • ‘Instead of voluntary dumbing down, there's a steady process of public self-enlightenment.’
      • ‘The most generic blurb about media art is that boredom dumbs down while entertainment enlightens.’
      • ‘Nods to popular culture have brought inevitable cries of dumbing down but if anything they makes the quiz even more troublesome.’
      • ‘The ultimate result of dumbing down is not, as its champions would no doubt want to claim, the collapse of cultural hierarchy and privilege.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘I simply don't believe in dumbing down - it makes me angry.’
      • ‘UK education ministers continually assert that the education system is not dumbing down - pupils are getting smarter.’
      • ‘I certainly wouldn't recommend dumbing down in the name of accessibility.’
      • ‘It is not about dumbing down, it is about presenting ourselves in the best possible way.’
      • ‘The reason why dumbing down and tabloid trivialisation is so widespread is that it works.’
      • ‘The show's success bolsters his theory that popular culture, far from dumbing down, is smartening up.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘And how much does television have to do with it, that maligned medium always associated with dumbing down?’
      • ‘There is no future for a university that dumbs down for short-term gain.’
      • ‘To use a phrase that's no longer particularly popular any more, the show has dumbed down.’
      • ‘It was trashy, sleazy and every other adjective associated with dumbing down.’
  • 2literary Make dumb or unheard; silence.

    ‘a splendor 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 offense. Alternatives such as speech-impaired should be used instead. See also deaf mute


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