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

Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English dumb, from Old English dumb (silent, speechless, mute, unable to speak), from Proto-Germanic *dumbaz (dull, dumb), from Proto-Indo-European *dʰewbʰ- (to whisk, smoke, darken, obscure). Cognate with Scots dumb (dumb, silent), North Frisian dom, domme (dumb, stupid), West Frisian dom (dumb, stupid), Dutch dom (dumb, stupid), German dumm (dumb, stupid), Swedish dum (stupid), Icelandic dumbur (dumb, mute). See also deaf.

The senses of stupid, unintellectual, and pointless developed under the influence of the German and Dutch words dumm and stom, respectively. The original meaning was "lacking the power of speech".


dumb (comparative dumber, superlative dumbest)

  1. (dated) Unable to speak; lacking power of speech (kept in "deaf, dumb, and blind").
    His younger brother was born dumb, and communicated with sign language.
    • Hooker
      to unloose the very tongues even of dumb creatures
  2. (dated) Silent; unaccompanied by words.
    dumb show
    • 1591, William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 1, Act II, sc. 4:
      Since you are tongue-tied and so loath to speak
      In dumb significants proclaim your thoughts
    • 1609, William Shakespeare, Sonnet 23:
      O let my books be then the eloquence
      And dumb presagers of my speaking breast ...
    • 1788, Mary Wollstonecraft, chapter 2, in Original Stories from Real Life (Children's literature), 1796 printing edition, London: J. Johnson, page 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...
    • J. C. Shairp
      to pierce into the dumb past
  3. (informal, derogatory, especially of a person) extremely stupid.
    You are so dumb! You don't even know how to make toast!
  4. (figuratively) Pointless, foolish, lacking intellectual content or value.
    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.
  5. Lacking brightness or clearness, as a colour.
    • De Foe
      Her stern was painted of a dumb white or dun color.
Derived terms[edit]
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout#Translations.

Etymology 2[edit]

From Middle English dumbien, 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 *dʰeubʰ- (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. (dated) To silence.
    • 1607, William Shakespeare, Anthony and Cleopatra, Act I, sc. 5:
      ... 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[edit]

Old English[edit]


From Proto-Germanic *dumbaz.




  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.


Related terms[edit]