On the use of the word stupid

I’ve been guilty of using words like “stupid,” “thick” or “idiot” as insults before, but I don’t do it anymore.

I’ve been thinking about what we mean when we use these words. Stupid might be used to mean “low cognitive ability.” It seems pretty nasty to be unpleasant about people with low cognitive ability*. I find it incredibly distasteful. I don’t like it any more than when people call others ugly. In fact, it’s probably easier to become prettier than to increase your cognitive ability – plastic surgery is possible; brain upgrades are not.

I suspect the reason that in the past I’ve disliked the word ugly more than the word stupid, is that I was often called ugly as a teenager, but I’ve rarely been called stupid. I think a lot of people I know have experienced similar.

I’ve often used the word stupid to mean “high cognitive ability, but currently being very illogical”. We really need another word for that.

Another way in which it’s used is just as a nasty putdown, often directed by male geeks at women who are less intellectually confident at them.

Let’s stop using that word.

*To what extent low cognitive ability is innate/determined by childhood experiences is not something I want to go into now.


5 thoughts on “On the use of the word stupid

  1. Like!!

    I completely agree. It’s a horrible thing to call someone. I, too, was called ugly a lot as a teenager. I don’t think I was ever called stupid (in fact I was usually bullied for being too smart!) I think they’re both completely vile things to call someone.

    Unfortunately, the thing you say about male geeks is also true. Not true of all, of course, but far more common than it ought to be. I had an ex once who told me when we broke up that it was ’embarrassing’ to me with me in social space because I was not a geek (their definition) and therefore ‘stupid.’

    Thank you for this post. I hope it will make people think more about their use of these words. x

  2. I think the difference in how they feel for me is based in my values.

    Okay, so, I’m primarily Utilitarian in that my primary concern is happiness and well-being and that trumps everyone else. However, there are also other things that I value for their own sake and intelligence is one of those things, whilst ‘beauty’ doesn’t really strike me as very significant in the grander scale of things.

    Hence I do make value judgements based on intelligence.

    I don’t condone bullying people based on their level of intelligence or any form of pointless cruelty but I’d be lying if I didn’t have a greater deal of respect and admiration for people who are very intelligent (which isn’t true for the very beautiful; it’s a nice trait to have but it doesn’t evoke respect and admiration from me).

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