American English (You Donut)

In informal speech the phrase is used to highlight stupidity.

E.g. You Donut

  1. An individual whom is extremely stupid. Lacks intelligence and common sense.
  2. An idiot. A mild insult often used in the work places of southern England.
  3. Somebody who does something incredibly stupid. An idiot.

Yet I find it a peculiar turn of phrase. You would hardly refer to someone as a meringue to convey your contempt for how they have behaved or how stupid you believe them to be.

One of the entries in the link posted above, states:

Word Originates from Scottish town Strathaven

But I was able to find no more information as to how the meaning of the phrase first came about, or even to corroborate if the phrase was first used in Strathaven.

The article: Don’t get honey-fuggled, you doughnut! And other inventive uses of food in English published by Oxford Dictionaries, mentions the phrase in passing:

Initially, my first thoughts were of food and insults. It struck me that there are rather a lot of (mostly mild and affectionate) insults involving food. Along the lines of ‘don’t do that, you doughnut’...

But mentions nothing of the origin of the phrases meaning.

How does the doughnut work here as a vehicle of derision? I'm interested in the origin of meaning specifically. Why has the everyday doughnut entered the vernacular in certain parts of the English speaking world as an appropriate metaphor for stupidity?

  • 3
    Never heard the expression in AmE, but I could imagine the analogy of a doughnut to a 'zero', which I have heard.
    – Jim Mack
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 13:34
  • 3
    This must have faded from usage. I'm a lifelong American, no have never heard it. But the general rule of calling someone a food-item as a toothless and playful insult ("you nut!") makes it plausible. When was that ODO article written? And where? Maybes it's not a 1950s thing but a Wisconsin thing, for example.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 13:50
  • @DanBron Interesting that the phrase is not used in America as far as you know. the first source I cited explaining the meaning of the phrase, is indexed using the American spelling 'donut' but I have no idea how good a job they do of editing 'the urban dictionary'! The phrase is still used in the vernacular in England today. The article itself is not dated on ODO. Given the doughnut is inanimate , like the nut in your example, there is an inherent lack of sense in these items, good point. I wonder why the doughnut in particular came to take on this usage however.
    – Gary
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 14:12
  • @JimMack interesting.
    – Gary
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 14:16
  • 2
    Urban dictionary is good for random motivation but is not authoritative. That term could easily be a one-off that one individual somewhere just came up with.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 15:14

5 Answers 5


If you're an idiot, your head is like a ring doughnut - it has a big empty space in the middle i.e. where the brain should be.

That's the analogy I assumed gave rise to the insult.

Or could be because dough is dense; 'dense' and 'thick' are two insults in British English used to mean stupid. Plus, nut is a colloquialism meaning head. Doughnut; thick in the head.

All just speculation on my part, I'm afraid.

  • 3
    Much as I like your thinking, I'm afraid this site is for expert answers with references, not unsubstantiated speculation.
    – AndyT
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 10:52
  • Please be patient till you get the privilege of posting comments. Good Luck. See AndyT's comment above.
    – Kris
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 10:36

The expression came from the 1970s UK kids tv show The Double Deckers. Doughnut was an overweight slightly daft character and it became a common light insult in playgrounds. I assume mostly in South East.

  • Google Books has an instance of "you doughnut" from 1964 in Terence Rattigan's Man and Boy.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 10:20
  • @StuartF: When I checked the linked text in a Google Books search result for what it claimed was an instance of "you doughnut" in Terence Rattigan, Man and Boy (1964), I found that the link actually went to Tony Parsons, Man and Boy (1999). Can you recheck your source to confirm that an instance appears in Terence Rattigan, Man and Boy (1964)?
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 20:22

Your 'nut' is your head in London. If you have a dough nut it's soft and sticking. You are doing or saying something stupid.


Calling a person a doughnut/donut in the area of England in the UK where I reside is most definitely implying/telling the person or implying to other people that the specific person or people are thickheads/stupid/unintelligent/daft as a brush/daft as brushes, a numpty or numpties. I reside in the North West of England in the UK. The lack of surface in the middle of a doughnut with a hole in it means everything falls through/isn't retained. And numpty comes from Humpty dumpty who fell stupidly off the wall. A numpty therefore is a stupid person. In the North West of the UK at least.


I'm pretty sure that legend comes from a speech John Kennedy gave in Berlin. The intended meaning was that the USA would always defend West Berlin against Soviet invasion. So, he wanted to say "I too am a Berliner." But, he mispronounced a word and said "I too am a (jelly) doughnut."

John Kennedy calls himself a jelly doughnut.

This does not exactly fit your question. But I cannot leave a comment.

  • I hadn't even thought of that possible association, I wonder how well versed the person that first coined the phrase would have been in American political history, I guess this would also depend on when the phrase was first used. Interesting suggestion.
    – Gary
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 14:19
  • 4
    Sorry for the downvote, but the internet is already awash in plausible and not-so-plausible speculation, to the point it's getting hard to distinguish speculation from established fact. I don't want EL&U to contribute more noise to the general cacophony in the form of novel folk etymologies. If you can find an authoritative source which draws this connection, or add otherwise credible substantiation, I can reverse my vote.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 16:12
  • 1
    I agree UD is generally worthless as an authoritative reference. I'm also aware of the JFK anecdote (though it's not clear his German audience actually understood him to mean "jelly doughnut" or not). The only risk I was pointing out is asserting the JFK anecdote as the basis for the "you're a doughnut" insult. It's plausible, but there's no evidence to suggest it actually happened, your nephew's abuse of his father notwithstanding.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 17:45
  • 7
    In case it isn't clear from this conversation, the "jelly donut" thing is an urban myth. None of it happened.
    – Avery
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 0:58
  • 1
    @BrianJ Outside of math / science, perception is always the reality.
    – riverflows
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 23:19

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