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In my native language, there is a word that has a meaning similar to stupid, but it is friendly and usually used for a close friend or loved one. It even helps the target people to feel happy in some cases, especially romantic situation where the "stupidity" stems from a cute action or misunderstanding.

Is there any similar word in English?

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related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/570/… –  user362 Jul 2 '12 at 15:20
    
@JasperLoy For example, when a friend tells me that he don't know what a girl he is in love is thinking, but you are fully understanding the situation, I may say this in my language: "You are such a "stupid" guy". That sentence has no offensive mean, but he knows that he is in a funny situation in others' eyes. –  DatVM Jul 2 '12 at 15:58
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I usually get called "dummy" ;) –  drxzcl Jul 2 '12 at 18:35
    
I think this is a good example of a question that should include the source language and word, and be tagged translation. I would allow it. –  Jez Jul 2 '12 at 20:12

18 Answers 18

up vote 20 down vote accepted

I assume OP is really looking for a word meaning "stupid", but with positive connotations (along the lines of "cuddly" for "fat", and maybe "homely" for "ugly").

Teachers, for example, may speak of less able students. But that's just because sometimes they can't avoid referring to such pupils (and it would be unprofessional to call them "stupid").

In normal conversational contexts, any reference to someone's lack of intelligence is likely to be seen as impolite and/or hurtful, so it's probably best avoided unless you intend to be disparaging.

OP might feasibly get away with uncomplicated, (or perhaps slow, simple, naive), but generally speaking such terms will be recognised for what they are (euphemisms) - so again, best avoided.


One common approach is to "soften" the label with humour. For example, you can say someone's...

one sandwich short of a picnic (a few clowns short of a circus, etc.)

not playing with a full deck (of cards, similar construction to above)

thick as a brick (...two short planks, ...shit, etc.)

EDIT: Following OP's later comment, it's apparent he wants a friendly/affectionate term by which to address his friend, who's showing a lack of understanding in some particular context. That's not really the same thing as trying to explain to others that your friend is significantly less intelligent than the average.

I suggest suitable phrasing in OP's context would be something slightly "whimsical", such as...

"Oh, you're such a ninny / noodle / nincompoop / etc.! Anyone can see she's madly in love with you!"

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+1. Great answer. –  Noah Jul 3 '12 at 0:57
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I really like noodle. It's even listed in my dictionary as informal: a stupid or silly person, yet it sounds like it would be "soft on the ego" – almost affectionate, even. –  J.R. Jul 3 '12 at 9:42
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You think of cuddly as related to pudgy? Really? I’ve never heard of such a thing. –  tchrist Jul 22 '12 at 0:57
    
@tchrist: I personally would never admit to scanning the Lonely Hearts section in newspapers - but I have a friend who does, and he assures me that women there describe themselves as cuddly and vivacious when they mean fat slag. –  FumbleFingers Jul 22 '12 at 12:08

"silly," "goof," or "dork" all work in casual/flirtatious conversation.

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None of these mean stupid, or even close to it... –  NominSim Jul 2 '12 at 18:41
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@NominSim maybe not without context, but i think any of those words implies the same thing that "stupid" (or "stupid guy") does in the OP's follow-up comment. No? –  Charles Jul 2 '12 at 19:08
    
I agree that they could be used in a casual/flirtatious conversation, however the OP seems to be looking specifically for a way to tell the person they are stupid. Considering from the comments that the "stupid" person in question is already showing a lack of understanding of social conventions, they may not get the implication. If you add something like naive to your answer I would be more than happy to switch my vote. :) –  NominSim Jul 2 '12 at 19:11
    
@NominSim: silly does, at least so says the dictionary... Naïve on the other hand is more "credulous" than "stupid". –  nico Jul 2 '12 at 20:11
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@NominSim: I may not call these synonyms for "stupid", either, but I still think there is plenty of overlap in certain contexts. E.g., I can think of circumstances where "That was a stupid thing to say" and "That was a silly thing to say" could both be used. Same for, "Don't be stupid!" vs. "Don't be a goof!"; or, "That makes you look stupid" vs. "That makes you look like a dork." –  J.R. Jul 3 '12 at 9:39

I am morally obligated to nominate my usual term for the purpose, adorkable (a portmanteau of adorable and dorky).

Calling someone a goofball is similar and less neologistic, if a bit antiquated.

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Interesting word! Thank you :) –  DatVM Jul 2 '12 at 16:01
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It's been a while since I've used adorkable. I now feel obliged to use it next time my SO does something adorkable ;) –  Wayne Werner Jul 2 '12 at 18:29
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+1 for the moral obligation. :) –  Marthaª Jul 2 '12 at 19:40
    
“doofus” may be similar. –  Scott Jun 3 at 14:28

A word that is often used in this context in British English is dope or dopey e.g. 'you dopey old thing!' - affectionate but not too unkind.

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I'd go for the simple "daft".

I've never once, that I recall, known anybody say or take it as offensive or insulting. It's very common too.

Don't be daft! She clearly loves you.

Oh, you're such a dafty! How can you not see that?

Dave? He's as daft as a ship's cat!

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It is not used that much by English speakers these days, but the word that fits best (especially for the romantic scenario as in fool for love or lovefool) is probably fool which means a person who lacks wisdom as opposed to one who lacks intelligence.

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Really? I think fool is offensive if I tell my girlfriend "Oh, you fool!"? –  DatVM Jul 2 '12 at 16:00
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@W.N. Like many words, fool can be positive or negative depending on the context. When employed in the positive, it is often in a romanticized or nostalgic context. E.g., I'm a fool for you, or an old fool such as I. –  HaL Jul 2 '12 at 16:06
    
@W.N., also in regards to the classic fool in the form of a court-jester. –  Synetech Jul 2 '12 at 16:25
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In English, "stupid" is considered much more insulting than "fool". –  Synetech Jul 9 '12 at 19:26

In that situation, you could use almost anything.

I can imagine saying something like "Oh, you mushroom!" or something similarly nonsensical.

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I would use the word naive.

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/naive To me it means, the person is not stupid, he/she is just 'inexperience in the field', or he/she is just 'unsuspecting' or 'credulous'.

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I'm hard-pressed to think of a POSITIVE word for "stupid". How could being stupid be a good thing? (Well, it might be good for me for someone else to be stupid, so that I can defeat him in some competition or take advantage of him, but it's not good for him.)

The closest to a postive word that I can think of is "simple". Like you might say, "Yeah, yeah, you have all these complex arguments, but I'm a simple guy, it just seems to me that ..." "Simple" is sometimes used when you want to say that another person is being too clever, perhaps making something more complicated than it needs to be, or is trying to fool others by using fancy language to cover up a fallacy.

A common euphemism is "slow". As in, "We'll be offerring tutoring sessions to help the slow students pass this class." When I was in school it was common to talk about the smart kids as "gifted students" and the dumb kids as "slow students". I don't know if these terms are still common.

Another euphemism was that class for less-smart kids were called "special education", and so the kids were called "special".

You could use "silly" or "cute" in some contexts.

But in general, I'd avoid looking for any word that means anything remotely like "stupid" if you're trying to keep a conversation friendly. Maybe there's a word in Spanish that would be perceived in a friendly way, but I don't think there's such a word in English. You can try to make it less offensive by using euphemisms, but it's still an insult.

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Said in the right tone and the right context, numpty might serve. It is Scottish in origin, and the OED defines the adjective ‘as stupid, foolish, idiotic’. However, the first definition in the Urban Dictionary seems to strike the right note:

a) Someone who (sometimes unwittingly) by speech or action demonstrates a lack of knowledge or misconception of a particular subject or situation to the amusement of others.

b) A good humoured admonition, a term of endearment

c) A reckless, absent minded or unwise person

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What about you are such a dork? –  Noah Jul 3 '12 at 1:00

Referring to someone as dozy isn't particularly offensive, nor does it necessarily imply a continued state of being. Instead, it describes them as not being less than attentive, slow at responding to the task at hand or perhaps lazy. Could it be construed as cute? In the context of being slow to catch-on, then certainly, it could be used as a temporary term of endearment. Nevertheless, continued use could be seen as being increasingly offensive.

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"Goob". It hearkens to Goober from the Andy Griffith Show, who was a loveable, yet dim-witted, character. No one I have ever called this took it offensively.

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I've always liked:

  • Twerp
  • Muppet
  • Moomin
  • 'Silly Sausage'

Those are mainly Northern English (UK) terms afaik.

Maybe 'Nobby' too, but that's slightly offensive.

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How about "duffer". It sounds cutesy, and it plays off someone's incompetence in a playful manner. See listing 2 in Merriam-Webster.

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I prefer "knucklehead" for endearingly stating someone is stupid.

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In San Francisco for a while people used to say "silly-boy" or "silly-girl," - or "silly-me," quickly, almost as one word. Prefacing with silly- or little- might take away some of sting. In Spanish, with its infinite degrees of diminutivization, you can make tonto become tontuello, "little clown" to call someone you're fond of.

There's also -head, as in lazyhead or puzzlehead or bonehead ...

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The least offensive way to express that someone is a bit slow on the uptake is to call them simple. It’s a lot less negative and judgemental than the rest of them come off sounding.

Just don’t move on to calling them a simpleton, because that one’s back in negative territory.

Simple also provides for plausible deniability should offence be taken where none is intended. That’s because although you mean the word in the OED2’s sense 9b . . .

  • 9. Deficient in knowledge or learning; characterized by a certain lack of acuteness or quick apprehension:
    a. of persons or animals
    b. of mental powers

. . . you can always backpeddle if need be, falling back on gentler senses, such as:

  1. Free from duplicity, dissimulation, or guile; innocent and harmless; undesigning, honest, open, straightforward.
  2. Free from, devoid of, pride, ostentation, or display; humble, unpretentious.
  3. a. Free from elaboration or artificiality; artless, unaffected; plain, unadorned.
    b. Of persons: Free from over-refinement, unsophisticated, unspoiled.

Aren’t those — um, convenient? There are other senses of simple that are less complimentary, but having complimentary ones to fall back to in case of social missteps is especially convenient. That way even though you might actually means simple as in stupid, you could if pressed fall back to simple meaning honest and humble, unpretentious and unsophisticated.

Seems like a win to me — at least if you’re looking to be inoffensive.

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I have realized, if you have a southern accent, you can get by with some outrageous insults by preceding or following it with "bless his/her heart". Here is an example. "He means well, but if his brains was put on the head of a pin, they'd roll around like a marble on a freeway." I don't know if that answers your question, but it sure seems to dilute an awful lot of derogatory or offensive language.

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Note the tag single-word-requests. –  American Luke Jul 30 '12 at 23:13
    
@luke blesshisheart? –  J. Walker Jul 30 '12 at 23:16

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