A friend of mine once described a mutual acquaintance in this way:

She can be obtuse.

The dictionary definition of "obtuse" seems to suggest a "lack of intellect or intelligence". However, this really seems to be unlikely to be what she meant, since it seems a very harsh way to speak about anyone. And also it does not describe the acquaintance whatsover, since she is a very smart woman.

The context of the sentence would seem to imply that it had something to do with stubbornness. Is that a possible interpretation?

5 Answers 5


In American English, I think the meaning is shifting towards 'missing the obvious' which is part of the first definition at Dictionary.com.

  1. not quick or alert in perception, feeling, or intellect; not sensitive or observant; dull.
  • 1
    I think this is very pertinent, along with the earlier "can be" observation. To me, "obtuse" tends to imply not lack of intelligence, but slow, unintentionally obstinate, acquisition of new ideas.
    – wfaulk
    Aug 10, 2011 at 16:43

"Obtuse" means as you say "lack of intelligence". Your friend is saying that her friend can be dense.

NOTE WELL, your friend is not saying "She is obtuse", but "She can be obtuse".

Your friend is saying that it is possible for this mutual acquaintance to be a little "slow" sometimes in catching things.

It's like, you have a very lazy friend, who hardly likes to do anything, but then you might say:

He can be fast.

Not saying that he is fast, but that he is fast sometimes.

Your friend is basically stating : "Even though your mutual friend is smart and intelligent, there are situations where she can be a little dense or slow." That's how your friend has described your mutual acquaintance.


Obtuse when applied to a person is rather disparaging, and it means either lack of intellect or sensitivity - i.e. your colleague might have been calling her insensitive

If you felt he meant stubborn in the context, then may be it was a slip of tongue, the right word he could have used is obstinate.


Not the brightest light bulb. Slow to comprehend

  • 1
    The question did not ask for alternative phrases: it asked for an explanation.
    – TrevorD
    Aug 16, 2013 at 16:35
  • 1
    @TrevorD, the question itself asked for the meaning of "she can be obtuse" which is exactly what this new member has answered. Lighten up on the newbies! OP should be reminded that they've asked two questions, not one. :-) Aug 16, 2013 at 18:07
  • @KristinaLopez I read the title & question as a single entity, and I don't think there are two questions. I stand by my previous comment: the first expression is not explaining the meaning: it is an alternative phrase that is unlikely to be understood by someone who has looked up a meaning and asks the question in the manner expressed. I agree that the second phrase could be considered as a 'meaning'. In many cases, I have let answers/questions by newbies pass with little comment when reviewing contributions. But I would say that several others are often harder on newbies than me. :-)
    – TrevorD
    Aug 16, 2013 at 18:35
  • @TrevorD, and I chide the others too, when I see it, because we have a reputation on this site for being hard on newcomers. And sorry to disagree, but there are two questions: 1) What is the meaning of "she can be obtuse"? and 2) The context of the sentence would seem to imply that it had something to do with stubbornness. Is that a possible interpretation? Aug 16, 2013 at 20:26
  • 1
    @KristinaLopez Comments noted. I took the second question as a sub-set/further detail of the first.
    – TrevorD
    Aug 16, 2013 at 22:28

Obtuse can refer to an expansive mind.

  • 2
    Can you support your answer please? I think your statement is untrue. Apr 6, 2014 at 10:47
  • What does 'expansive' mean?
    – Mitch
    Apr 6, 2014 at 23:43

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