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I have one friend who has a hard time understanding things other people say. While everyone except him understands what someone tried to say, this guy still understands nothing. We always have to explain more and more until he can get it. What can we call him?

It's the same as the student who hardly understands what a teacher says while other students can understand it. (Does not mean he is stupid. He can do the exam well. But the teacher has to speak more than usual.)

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"Thick" is a term I've heard people use occasionally. –  Randolf Richardson Nov 4 '11 at 7:30
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up vote 15 down vote accepted

One can hardly answer this question properly without knowing why the friend is slow to understand. You've ruled out stupidity, but he might be hard of hearing, dyslexic, perverse, autistic, obtuse or dense (both of which verge upon stupidity), or daydreaming. He might also recognize several possible, plausible meanings where others assume a single meaning is evident, and may have difficulty getting the speaker to isolate a single scenario.

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+1 for noting that the actual situation has many possible explanations. –  jprete Nov 5 '11 at 13:34
    
It's truth. hardly to decide because I actually don't know what wrong with him. He might be obtuse or might think out of the box whilst others including teacher always think inside the box. In either way, you gave me a lot of good ideas and plausible words. Thank you. –  A-letubby Nov 7 '11 at 15:12
    
There can be the highly educated but obtuse person as opposed to the more emotionally grounded person. The latter persons intuition has been developed so that long explanations aren't necessary and they have even more insight to offer beyond what is being said, as opposed to having to have the mere basics re-explained. I think we will see that Autism has more levels and degrees. –  Carole-Lynn Nov 8 '11 at 18:04
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So he's not stupid, but needs everything explained many times ... you might say he was 'slow to catch on'. This at least suggests that once he has 'caught on' then he understands as well as the average person.

The only single word I can think of to get close to this would be obtuse.

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+1 for "obtuse". I have heard this used most often in the phrase "deliberately obtuse" - to describe a person who intentionally "fails to understand" in order to make a point or belittle an argument. –  Matt Nov 4 '11 at 8:45
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I think that's acute way of saying it –  Ben Brocka Nov 4 '11 at 19:28
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Warden Samuel Norton: "What? What did you call me?" -The Shawshank Redemption –  LarsTech Nov 4 '11 at 22:39
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Slow-witted may be used in that case. The following are some definitions from different dictionaries:

  • Lacking a keen or swift intellect, not too bright or not too swift
  • Slow to comprehend
  • does not understand quickly, perceives slowly
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Is it possible that he is thinking of something else at the time? Maybe he has an over-active imagination and is often tuned out of reality or not really paying attention the first time.

Also, various spectrum disorders (dyslexia is one of many) or a degree of autism could lead to the person not being able to understand things if they're explained in an "obvious" way (what's obvious to others may not be obvious to this person). There's a school of thought that says that (and this is vastly oversimplified and I'm not an expert in this) people learn in three different ways:

Perhaps this person needs to have the information delivered in a different way to understand it as fast as others.

In answer to your question though, I would suggest that what you're looking for is one of the autism spectrum disorders (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism_spectrum), of which dyslexia (difficulty reading) is just one of many. Please note that the autism spectrum is just that; a spectrum, and has varying degrees of severity. An individual can have very mild autism and still appear to behave and act like someone without it for most of the time, except in the specific situations where it affects them.

Indeed, some people believe everyone's a bit autistic.

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Inquisitive is a word for a person who doesn't just accept things but tries to understand them. While many others might just regurgitate what the teacher says and appear as if they have understood it, he needs to view multiple perspectives to better understand a piece of information. For example, people look at the facade of a building and decide that they know what it looks like inside! An inquisitive person has to search the entire building for unknown rooms and histories. He even explores the roof before he can say that he understands the building. Other students (in a classroom with a good teacher) learn more due to the inquisitive nature and lack of tolerance for superficial answers of this subset of students who may not fully understand.

This definitely does not describe every person who takes a longer time to understand or needs extra explanation, but it could work for a certain type of person.

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While this is probably an apt description for some people, it is clearly describing only a subset of people who take longer to fully understand. –  Anicul Nov 5 '11 at 23:38
    
@Anicul : Agreed, If possible can you please modify my answer to reflect that. –  Arjang Nov 5 '11 at 23:45
    
I'd be happy to do that! –  Anicul Nov 6 '11 at 0:01
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Try "Epaminondas" I can't speak to the classical Greek origin which I think has nothing to do with the ancient Louisiana origin. But does this sounds like the fellow you're talking about:

Epaminondas used to go to see his Auntie 'most every day, and she nearly always gave him something to take home to his Mammy.

One day she gave him a big piece of cake; nice, yellow, rich gold-cake.

Epaminondas took it in his fist and held it all crunched up tight, like this, and came along home. By the time he got home there wasn't anything left but a fistful of crumbs. His Mammy said,--

"What you got there, Epaminondas?"

"Cake, Mammy," said Epaminondas.

"Cake!" said his Mammy. "Epaminondas, you ain't got the sense you was born with! That's no way to carry cake. The way to carry cake is to wrap it all up nice in some leaves and put it in your hat, and put your hat on your head, and come along home. You hear me, Epaminondas?"

"Yes, Mammy," said Epaminondas.

For more info check out the children's books: Epossumondas

Epaminondas is the epitome of the noodle-head genre and could easily be used in a sentence to describe someone who you told something to, but they failed to understand a word you said.

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  • formal: obtuse
  • informal: dense
  • casual: slow
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