It happened so that I recently attended the criminal trial. What particularly amazed me there is how many people can't comprehend spoken English. DA asks questions in a very slow, clear, monotonous voice without any emotion, and questions are all grammatically correct. He obviously does this as a job for years. Yet, about half of the witnesses, one after another just don't understand his questions. They kept asking "Can you repeat the question?" And I could see the struggling expression on their face. Most witnesses were in 20-25 age range, all studied in the US high schools, and most have BA degrees of some kind.

The factor that triggered this, I think, is that questions were a bit more complex than usual, for example: When was the first time you met the defendant or anybody related to him in any way?

I didn't even go to English language high school, my school was in completely different language, and while seating in the last row in the audience, I still understood every single question, and I think almost every nuance of every question.

My question is:

  • Is there an English word describing a person who can't comprehend the correct and clearly audible speech?

I can only wonder how much would they be able to comprehend when somebody would speak very fast and not very clearly.

  • 2
    In defense of the listeners, the question you quoted is not phrased conversationally, which is how most are used to hearing. "When was the first time you met the defendant..." listener is now thinking about how to answer the question "...or anybody related to him in any way?" Listener has not heard the second part of the question, as they were trying to answer the first. Now they need a minute to reformulate their answer to the full question, and not what they originally thought the question would be. You are not answering the question, so you can fully pay attention to what is being asked.
    – VampDuc
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 18:25
  • 2
    Yep, nerves play a huge role in not hearing phrases. People who are in the spotlight tend to feel nervous and their minds race ahead of them.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 18:27
  • 1
    Selective Hearing. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selective_auditory_attention
    – Joe Dark
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 18:30
  • 3
    I can think of two or three reasons why a witness might want a difficult question to be repeated, only one of which is a lack of comprehension.
    – JHCL
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 18:31
  • 5
    Objection! Compound question!
    – bib
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 19:28

1 Answer 1


Slow on the uptake (colloq.)

Slow to comprehend.

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