• IPA(key): /dʌm/
  • Rhymes: -ʌm
  • Audio (Canada):(file)

Etymology 1

From Middle English dumb (silent, speechless, mute, ineffectual), from Old English dumb (silent, speechless, mute, unable to speak), from Proto-West Germanic *dumb, from Proto-Germanic *dumbaz (dull, dumb), from Proto-Indo-European *dʰewbʰ- (to whisk, smoke, darken, obscure).

The senses of stupid, unintellectual, and pointless, which are found regularly since the 19th century only, probably developed under the influence of German dumm and Dutch dom. Just like the English word, these originally meant "lacking the power of speech", but they developed the mentioned senses early on.


dumb (comparative dumber, superlative dumbest)

  1. (dated) Unable to speak; lacking power of speech (kept in "deaf, dumb, and blind").
    Synonyms: mute, speechless, wordless
    His younger brother was born dumb, and communicated with sign language.
    • 1594–1597, Richard Hooker, edited by J[ohn] S[penser], Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, [], London: [] Will[iam] Stansby [for Matthew Lownes], published 1611, →OCLC, (please specify the page):
      to unloose the very tongues even of dumb creatures
    • 1788, Mary Wollstonecraft, chapter 2, in Original Stories from Real Life (Children's literature), London: J. Johnson, published 1796, pages 10–11:
      The country people frequently ſay,—How can you treat a poor dumb beaſt ill; and a ſtreſs is very properly laid on the word dumb; for dumb they appear to thoſe who do not obſerve their looks and geſtures; but God, who takes care of every thing, underſtands their language...
    • 1884 January 5, “Mighty maiden with a mission”, in W. S. Gilbert (lyrics), Arthur Sullivan (music), Princess Ida[1], performed by D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, London, page 48:
      We are dumb and we would talk
    • 1992, “Opiate”, performed by Tool:
      Deaf and blind and dumb and born to follow / What you need is someone strong to guide you
  2. (archaic) Not talkative; taciturn or unwilling to speak.
  3. (dated) Having no input or voice in running things.
    • 1843 April, Thomas Carlyle, “Democracy”, in Past and Present, American edition, Boston, Mass.: Charles C[offin] Little and James Brown, published 1843, →OCLC, book III (The Modern Worker), page 210:
      Life was never a May-game for men; in all times the lot of the dumb-millions born to toil was defaced with manifold sufferings, injustices, heavy burdens, avoidable and unavoidable; not play at all, but hard work that made the sinews sore, and the heart sore.
  4. (dated, of things, actions, etc.) Unaccompanied by words or speech, silent, wordless.
    dumb show
  5. (dated) Not producing any sound, silent.
  6. (informal, derogatory, especially of a person) Stupid.
    Synonyms: feeble-minded, idiotic, moronic, stupid; see also Thesaurus:stupid
    Antonyms: intelligent, smart
    You are so dumb! You don't even know how to make toast!
  7. (figuratively) Pointless, foolish, lacking intellectual content or value.
    Synonyms: banal, brainless, dopey, silly, stupid, ridiculous, vulgar
    This is dumb! We're driving in circles! We should have asked for directions an hour ago!
    Brendan had the dumb job of moving boxes from one conveyor belt to another.
  8. Lacking some functionality or property ordinarily characteristic of its kind.
  9. (of technology) Not equipped with intelligent behavior or processing capabilities of its own.
    Antonym: smart
  10. (obsolete, rare) Lacking brightness or clearness as a colour; dim, dull.
Derived terms
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.

Etymology 2

From Middle English dumben, from Old English dumbian (more commonly in compound ādumbian (to become mute or dumb; keep silence; hold one’s peace)), from Proto-Germanic *dumbijaną, *dumbōną (to be silent, become dumb), from Proto-Indo-European *dʰewbʰ- (to whisk, smoke, darken, obscure). Cognate with German verdummen (to become dumb).


dumb (third-person singular simple present dumbs, present participle dumbing, simple past and past participle dumbed)

  1. (transitive, dated) To silence.
    • c. 1606–1607, William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Anthonie and Cleopatra”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act I, scene v]:
      [] what I would have spoke
      Was beastly dumbed by him.
    • 1911, Lindsay Swift, William Lloyd Garrison, page 272:
      The paralysis of the Northern conscience, the dumbing of the Northern voice, were coming to an end.
  2. (transitive) To make stupid.
    • 2003, Angela Calabrese Barton, Teaching Science for Social Justice, page 124:
      I think she's dumbing us down, so we won't be smarter than her.
  3. (transitive) To represent as stupid.
    • 2004, Stephen Oppenheimer, The Real Eve: Modern Man's Journey Out of Africa, page 107:
      Bad-mouthing Neanderthals [] is symptomatic of a need to exclude and even demonize. [] I suggest that the unproven dumbing of the Neanderthals is an example of the same cultural preconception.
  4. (transitive) To reduce the intellectual demands of.
    • 2002, Deborah Meier, In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing, page 126:
      The ensuing storm caused the department to lower the bar—amid protests that this was dumbing the test down—so that only 80 percent of urban kids would fail.
Derived terms

Etymology 3

A minced oath of damn.[1][2]


dumb (not comparable)

  1. (African-American Vernacular) Very, extremely.
    Synonyms: type, mad, hella, wicked, (NYC) odee, (MLE, MTE) bare
    • 2017, Don Winslow, The Force, London: HarperCollins Publishers, →ISBN, page 134:
      "What, you don't like your food?" Russo asks. ¶ "Are you kidding? It's dumb good."
    • 2019, Natisha Raynor, She Made a Savage Change His Ways 2, Atlanta, G.A.: Royalty Publishing House, →ISBN, page 4:
      Yo this shit is crazy how these females are making these doctors rich. My baby moms Miracle is getting surgery in a week or so. She's flying out to Colombia. That shit really baffles me as far as she's concerned, because Miracle is already dumb thick. I'm like damn ma, how big do you want your ass to be?
Derived terms


dumb (comparative more dumb, superlative most dumb)

  1. (African-American Vernacular, dated) An intensifier expressing contempt; damn, damned.
    • 2002, Glenna Whiteaker Wilding, Tales of a Ridgerunner: The Adventures of a Young Family Growing Up in the East Tennessee Mountains, 1890s - 1920s, Prospect, K.Y.: Harmony House Publishers, →ISBN, page 95:
      Pap came to stand beside her and watched the two play. "That pup has just plum' fell in love with our Sammy, an' Sam's real took by him," Pap said. "It's a dumb shame, too. I talked to Jim, but he's not of a mind to sell."


Middle English

Alternative forms


From Old English dumb.


  • IPA(key): /ˈdum(b)/, /ˈduːm(b)/


dumb (plural and weak singular dumbe)

  1. Lacking or failing to display the faculty of voice:
    1. Unspeaking; unable to speak or having muteness.
    2. (substantive) A mute; one who can't speak.
    3. Temporarily unable to speak due to strong emotions.
    4. Unwilling or reluctant to speak; not speaking.
  2. Powerless, ineffectual (either inherently or due to events)
  3. Unknowledgeable; having no understanding or sense.
  4. (of animals) Unwilling or unable to make a noise; quiet or silent.
  5. (rare) Unrevealing, useless; having no important messages or lessons.
  6. (rare) Having nothing to keep one busy or engaged.
  7. (rare, figurative) Refusing to preach or evangelise.
  8. (rare, figurative) Refusing to be conceited or vainglorious.

Derived terms


  • English: dumb
  • Scots: dumb


Old English


From Proto-West Germanic *dumb.




  1. mute, dumb (unable to speak)
  2. (substantive) a mute
    • c. 990, Wessex Gospels, Luke 11:14
      Þā hē ūt ādrāf þā dēofolsēocnesse, þā spræc se dumba.
      When he drove out the demon, the mute person spoke.