Is there a polite word that can be used to designate someone who didn't really understand what he or she was doing? Or, in general, someone who is intentionally ignorant of how things work. A "lamer" doesn't fit for being impolite, and seemingly harming some people's ears too much.

Edit: Another good definition is

It distinguishes between people who are ignorant by chance from those who are ignorant by choice.

And it makes me think that there is no polite substitution just because the meaning itself being impolite and abusive. Right?

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    Do you want terms for someone "ignorant by change" or "ignorant by choice"? Pick one. :)
    – MrHen
    Apr 5, 2011 at 17:44
  • I can't give a specific word offhand, but I don't doubt there are several. I personally know pretty much how the internals of a car work, but I know plenty of people who drive perfectly well with no such knowledge. Some of them actively resist learning what goes on under the bonnet, and it doesn't automatically follow that such an attitude should always be refered to disparagingly. Apr 5, 2011 at 17:46
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    @MrHen: I make these comments because I'm taking the question at face value. It asks for a non-derogatory term for someone who doesn't understand what they do. I assume they actually do it perfectly well - they're just not interested in how it works in detail. I'm reminding others that such an attitude can reasonably be understood, even valued. Most Answers seem to completely miss the point of the question. Apr 6, 2011 at 4:48
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    Personally I have no interest in suggesting words that hide the real meaning. If the quality you want to describe is bad, either so so or say nothing. Don't lie. Apr 6, 2011 at 14:11
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    @Col. Shrapnel: Ok, well it's your question, so I'll leave my answer in if you like. I don't understand the reference to those guys from meta though. Surely you're not trying to find a polite way of telling the main 'experts' on this site that they don't know what they're doing? Apr 6, 2011 at 15:09

8 Answers 8


Novice? Unaware of [whatever]? Edit: A self-appointed expert?

The problem is that implying that someone intentionally ignorant of something is inherently discourteous. All of the polite variants you'll find will be implying that the ignorance is unintentional.

  • Well you nailed it right before I realized it myself. So, there is no answer at all. Just to refine your definition: A novice who tries to teach others on the matter. Apr 5, 2011 at 17:43
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    @Col. Shrapnel: A self-appointed expert, perhaps?
    – user1579
    Apr 5, 2011 at 17:55
  • That's closest one (at least to my not-so-good feel for English) Apr 5, 2011 at 18:15

Shamelessly copied and pasted from NOAD:

Someone who knows nothing about growing things might be called ignorant by a farmer who never went to high school but has spent his life in the fields. Although all of these adjectives refer to a lack of knowledge, ignorant refers to a lack of knowledge in general (: a foolish, ignorant person) or to a lack of knowledge of some particular subject (: ignorant of the fine points of financial management).

A professor of art history might refer to someone who doesn't know how to look at a painting as uneducated or untutored, both of which refer to a lack of formal education in schools (: she was very bright but basically uneducated, and completely untutored in the fine arts).

Someone who cannot read or write is illiterate, a term that may also denote a failure to display civility or cultivated behavior (: the professor routinely referred to his students as illiterate louts).

Someone who is unlettered lacks a knowledge of fine literature (: a scientist who was highly trained but unlettered); it also implies being able to read and write, but with no skill in either of these areas.

Unlearned is similar to ignorant in that it refers to a lack of learning in general or in a specific subject (: an unlearned man who managed to become a millionaire), but it does not carry the same negative connotations.

Uninformed refers to a lack of definite information or data. For example, one can be highly intelligent and well educated but still uninformed about the latest developments in earthquake prediction.


If you want to be nice, you can say the person is a neophyte. Less polite would be philistine, which MW defines as "one uninformed in a special area of knowledge." If this is a technology-related field, luddite might work (though it's not very nice, either). A more neutral way of saying "intentionally ignorant" might be

exhibits a deliberate lack of sophistication about _.

EDIT: Understanding the question better now, I offer another option to describe someone who is arrogantly and intentionally ignorant yet insists on trying to instruct others.

insists on [spreading or infecting others with] his deliberate lack of sophistication about _.

This assumes you're just looking for a polite way to describe the problem to third parties. You wouldn't say this to the person's face -- at least not if you expect to get along with him afterward. :)

Sorry so many words. I don't think there's a way to say this that is both concise and diplomatic.

  • Frankly, I don't want to be nice. More likely I forced to it %) However, lamer is not equal to neophyte. It's more likely an "arrogant neophyte". Apr 5, 2011 at 18:14
  • @Col. Shrapnel: Well, "lamer" was unfamiliar to me before today (but I like it). Until I read your comments to Rhodri's answer, I didn't get the "arrogant" part. I've added another suggestion, though I'm still not sure I'm exactly hitting the right note.
    – Kelly Hess
    Apr 5, 2011 at 18:29

A polite way to say that a person doesn't know something:

[Person] is not familiar with [something].

For example,

Mark is not familiar with Java programming.

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    It more fits for a newbie than a lamer. Apr 5, 2011 at 17:30

A few words that can mean "ignorant by choice" (with mixed amounts of tactfulness):

  • unenthusiastic
  • unmotivated
  • lackadaisical
  • bored
  • resistant
  • rebellious
  • apathetic
  • uninterested
  • ennui
  • listless
  • passionless
  • indifference

my favorite is from "Shawshank Redemption" in which Andy accuses the warden of being obtuse.


How about a "specialist"?

It's a long shot, but I myself try to avoid learning anything of certain areas, like music and politics. It's not an inherently negative practice (Although perhaps I shouldn't speak being an open practitioner ^.^). At least, it's not if you've read, or admire, your Sherlock Holmes.

If you don't remember, this was one of the features Watson found most remarkable about Mr. Holmes in A Study in Scarlet, in the second chapter, if you're interested. Despite his astonishing knowledge in several eclectic and esoteric areas, he remained ignorant of the primacy of the heliocentric theory in astronomy, and would have liked to remain so.

As I said, "specialist" is a long shot, but it's not insulting...I admit, that's mainly because it emphasises a hypothetical counterpoint for whatever intentional ignorance. Still, it seems to me that, sometimes, that is exactly what being polite is, ignoring the negative and hyping the positive.


Although remaining judgmental and by no means polite, dispatching a lamer as an ignoramus superficially imparts authority in doing so.

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