Meaning of dumb in English:


Pronunciation /dʌm/

See synonyms for dumb

Translate dumb into Spanish


  • 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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  • 2 dated, 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.
      ‘Sara felt herself pitying the poor, dumb creature.’
      • ‘The bovine reference seems apt since I keep standing like a dumb beast on the wrong side of escalators, and walking down footpaths on the wrong side so that people have to go round me.’
      • ‘Another dumb creature has also been in the limelight.’
      • ‘The dumb beasts have less vanity than many a man who vaunts himself created in God's image.’
      • ‘I am as fond of God's dumb creatures as Dabholkar is even if I cannot keep them as pets myself.’
      • ‘I want to bellow in pain like some big dumb beast, and I want to hold my friend and tell him that he has nothing to fear.’
      • ‘I frowned and tried to explain my feeling, that it was somehow different, hurting dumb beasts and hurting things that could speak.’
      • ‘Are we so desperate for communication with other intelligences that we will throw away our own the moment some dumb creature gives us an imitative squawk or a hand sign?’
      • ‘Most of the time I just have camels for company, dumb beasts.’
      • ‘I am only twenty-three years old; I have no child to comfort me, no companion of my own age, nothing to love but the dumb creature who is so faithfully fond of me.’
      • ‘Without warning, the dumb beast bolts in a flurry of ice and snow.’
      • ‘Did we make an idol of our dog, imputing to him all sorts of attributes that he was incapable of denying because he was a dumb beast?’
      • ‘Those companies will know that the best way to relate to customers is as human beings, not as abstract populations to attack, control, capture and herd like dumb beasts.’
      • ‘She just stared, her mouth opening and shutting like a dumb fish's.’
      • ‘If we proposed to kill a mass murderer, an enemy combatant/terrorist, or even a dumb animal by depriving them of food and water, we would be condemned as inhumane.’
      • ‘Like a big, dumb animal, you are driven by your emotions more than your reason, and as a result of the fact that you care very little for the feelings of others, you tend to be rather selfish.’
      • ‘What was the State of Florida doing to these poor, dumb animals?’
      • ‘Around 40 dumb animals have to be killed to make a fur coat.’
      • ‘These poor dumb harmless animals are cruelly caught in a trap made of a short chain and wire rope and a three-foot bar driven into the ground.’
      • ‘I speak for those who can't speak, for the deaf and dumb witnesses, for otters and seals, for the ancient owls of the earth.’
  • 3mainly North American informal Stupid.

    • ‘a dumb question’
    • ‘I couldn't tell if he was being stupid, dumb, or idiotic.’
    • ‘‘You're so slow and stupid and dumb,’ she grumbled, opening it and taking out a pencil.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘I'll never do it again, because it was stupid and irresponsible and dumb, and I could have seriously gotten hurt or something.’
    • ‘For some strange, dumb, stupid, pathetic reason, I started laughing.’
    • ‘She knew she was being dumb and stupid, acting like a little girl.’
    • ‘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 what had pushed him over the edge, and he was missing now because of her dumb, stupid, irrational comment.’
    • ‘He wasn't their guardian by any means, but he wasn't about to let two stupid kids make a dumb decision.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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?’
    • ‘And I suppose it's a bit of a dumb question, but why are fewer companies offering this?’
    • ‘I asked him the usual dumb question about how he took criticism and reviews, and he gave an interesting answer.’
    • ‘Do they consider people they have outsmarted or manipulated as dumb or stupid?’
    • ‘It's too late to ask dumb philosophical questions.’
    • ‘The best answer to those two questions is: those are two really dumb questions; enough hot air has been expended in their name already.’
    • ‘Right away, Andrew knew what a dumb question he was asking.’
    • ‘It was a bit of a dumb question, but she needed to ask it.’
    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
    View synonyms
  • 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

    ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘It is essentially just a dumb program spitting out information that it is given to pass on.’


[with object] literary
  • 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’
      • ‘She escaped, a circumstance she attributes to dumb luck rather than divine intervention.’
      • ‘They depend also, to no small extent, on sheer dumb luck.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘But he chafes at the title, since he knows his bravery was just dumb luck.’
      • ‘But Jonathan and Sara sense they are drawn to one another by more than dumb luck or blind chance.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘I got the job half by dumb luck, and half by knowing what I'm doing.’
    play dumb
    • Pretend to be unintelligent or unaware in order to deceive someone or gain an advantage.

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

Phrasal Verbs

    dumb down
    • 1dumb something down, dumb down somethingSimplify 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’
      • ‘critics have accused publishers of dumbing down books’
      • ‘How did you make the book accessible without dumbing it down?’
      • ‘It insults our intelligence, dumbs the global experience down for us into easily digestible particles, and lies when it could really enlighten.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘What they do with these questionnaires, is they dumb the questionnaires down, as the level of intelligence of the population collapses.’
      • ‘Even though summer means tourist in Boston, I don't dumb the wines down though I do look for flavors that are accessible.’
      • ‘Anything that doesn't dumb it down but makes it more accessible to people is doing a really good job in my eyes.’
      • ‘However their experience is depressing: ideas are dumbed down, creativity ignored, and people trashed.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The narrator was calm, clear and educated, there were no unnecessary flashy graphics and above all it wasn't dumbed down.’
      • ‘I absolutely disagree that it has been dumbed down.’
      • ‘But, at the same time, we were not interested in dumbing things 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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘If they've dumbed it down or diluted it, it's finished.’
      • ‘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!’
      • ‘I have made it clear to the board that what we are not going to do is dumb the hospital down.’
      1. 1.1dumb downBecome less intellectually challenging.
        ‘the need to dumb down for mass audiences’
        • ‘The reason why dumbing down and tabloid trivialisation is so widespread is that it works.’
        • ‘What I'm talking about here is a tried and tested tabloid approach: dumb down, sex up and sensationalise.’
        • ‘The show's success bolsters his theory that popular culture, far from dumbing down, is smartening up.’
        • ‘Nods to popular culture have brought inevitable cries of dumbing down but if anything they makes the quiz even more troublesome.’
        • ‘I certainly wouldn't recommend dumbing down in the name of accessibility.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘There is no future for a university that dumbs down for short-term gain.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘The most generic blurb about media art is that boredom dumbs down while entertainment enlightens.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘And how much does television have to do with it, that maligned medium always associated with dumbing down?’
        • ‘No-one has ever shown any net benefit to my knowledge - though there is plenty of evidence that it leads to dumbing down.’
        • ‘The ultimate result of dumbing down is not, as its champions would no doubt want to claim, the collapse of cultural hierarchy and privilege.’
        • ‘Instead of voluntary dumbing down, there's a steady process of public self-enlightenment.’


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