My understanding is that:

thick in the head

... means inflexible, but I was told it means stupid.

Since inflexible doesn't mean stupid all the time, what is the precise meaning of thick in the head?

(When I say "my understanding is", I mean that I could be wrong).

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  • It means not very smart. – Robusto Jan 19 '15 at 20:22
  • Maybe not stupid, but "slow on the uptake". – Hot Licks Jan 19 '15 at 20:53
  • "Thick in the head" traditionally goes with "strong in the arm", to indicate one whose talents are more physical than mental. – TimLymington Jan 19 '15 at 22:47
  • @TimLymington - I've only once or twice heard "thick in the head/strong in the arm", or it's equivalent. And most often "thick in the head" is abbreviated as simply "thick" and a pointing motion to the head, or something of that fashion. – Hot Licks Jan 20 '15 at 0:11
  • "Yorkshire Born, Yorkshire Bred, Strong in't arm and thick in't head" - as a proud tyke – mgb Jan 20 '15 at 5:22

Dull or obtuse or dense. Not necessarily stupid so much as slow to catch on to what you're saying or what's going on.


"Thick in the head" or simply thick is indeed a synonym of stupid. It generally has the connotation of someone who is not very good at understanding things generally, and would not be used to describe a foolhardy action. It does not imply someone is being deliberately inflexible.

  • Thanks a lot, I think I was confused between "hardheaded" and "thick in the head", now I understand one of the meaning of thick is "slow to learn and understand". – Saeid Jan 19 '15 at 21:57

At a colloquial level, and in a low register it does mean stupid. But it is the sort of word you might, in Britain, hear used in the crowd at a football match, or among the less sophisticated drinkers in a pub. It does not belong in an intellectual register. Educationalists have far better and more professional ways of describing people who are supposedly 'thick'.

It also depends on the dubious notion that there is a possible universal measure of intelligence, a particularly Anglo-centred idea, that is challenged by most modern schools of psychology.

Historically, intellectual capability was reduced to an index, known as IQ. Average was 100, with 10% of the population achieving scores of more than 125, based on spatial and diagrammatic tests.

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