How offensive is the word 'dumb'?

marsbeing

Senior Member
My girlfriend, who is American, was offended today when I said to her 'Don't be dumb'. This is not something I expected. Is the word as strong as 'stupid'? I always thought it was milder.

Also, are there any milder alternatives for this word? Thanks for your help.
 
  • natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    OK, 'dumb' meaning something like 'silly'. I think in informal contexts and to someone you are close to, it isn't very offensive.

    There's also 'dumb' meaning 'unable to speak'. That seems to have become offensive, and people use terms like 'mute' now.
     

    marsbeing

    Senior Member
    I see. Thanks for the feedback, Natkretep and LVRBC. It seems I'd better avoid it. But I was wondering if there're any alternative expressions that I can use...
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English (US - northeast)

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Some words are charged with a far stronger meaning than the their dictionary definitions. There has, unfortunately, been a long history of characterising women as being somehow inferior to men, and "dumb" was (and unfortunately still is) one of the most common words used in this respect. I don't think everyone is sensitive to this use, but perhaps your girlfriend is, and it is a word best avoided.
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    My girlfriend, who is American, was offended today when I said to her 'Don't be dumb'.
    Whether this phrase is offensive depends on 1) the context and 2) the relationship between the two people. There are many situations in which it would be offensive.

    'dumb' meaning something like 'silly'.
    Maybe this is a US/UK difference. In US English, it doesn’t mean “silly”; it means “stupid.”
     

    Ikwik64

    Senior Member
    British English, originally Australian
    My girlfriend, who is American, was offended today when I said to her 'Don't be dumb'.

    I have noticed that in AmE "dumb" can sometimes mean "ignorant" rather than "stupid".
    For instance, I have heard Americans say that not reading books will make you "dumb".
    Doesn't make it any more or less offensive though.
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Those who are part of the “deaf and dumb” community would not thank you for using the word dumb in that sense.
    This is another important point! For the same reason, I try to avoid using the word "lame" in its non-literal sense, but I struggle with that sometimes because I think it conveys a very specific meaning, and I don't have a handy alternative. Maybe I'll start a thread on this!
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Dumb is often okay when describing things but much less okay when describing people.

    Ideas are often described as dumb and mechanical gadgets also.

    "It was a dumb idea to park under that tree. Now my car is covered with bird droppings."

    "My dumb car didn't start again today. It's getting to be a real problem."
     

    LVRBC

    Senior Member
    English-US, standard and medical
    BTW, a good alternative, which I've just thought of myself, would be the British term 'daft'. Haha.
    I suggest you hold off on insulting your girlfriend, who is from the US, with British terms. Unless she insults you -- which would seem an odd basis for a relationship, but everyone to their own taste.
     

    marsbeing

    Senior Member
    Yes, we often use daft in an affectionate way, but I once said "Don't be daft" to a Canadian online friend who got really upset.
    I think the word 'daft' is usually fine in British English but having heard what you said, I'd think twice before using it when talking with anyone from outside the UK.

    I suggest you hold off on insulting your girlfriend, who is from the US, with British terms. Unless she insults you -- which would seem an odd basis for a relationship, but everyone to their own taste.
    Thanks for the advice LVRBC. I've no intention to insult her--and I don't think it's fun. I was making the point from a language learning point of view. :)
     
    Top