What does it mean when someone says, for example,

That problem was "as intuitive as mud".

  • 10
    In the sentence "mud" is used metaphorically to mean "unclear". The meaning is that the problem was not intuitive, it was difficult to understand. – user66974 May 21 '17 at 13:16
  • 11
    It's a paraphrase: en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/as_clear_as_mud – michael.hor257k May 21 '17 at 13:47
  • 29
    Can you reference where you found this phrase used? I think this is a poor analogy for whatever the author is trying to say. Clear as mud makes sense because mud is objectively opaque. Intuitive as mud is a stupid analogy because I have no baseline for whether mud should be intuitive or not. What does intuitiveness of an object even mean?? As intuitive as table. As intuitive as juice. Etc... – spacetyper May 21 '17 at 18:17
  • 6
    That is a muddling of the phrase "as clear as mud", which means "not intuitive". As stated, your version is meaningless and is not in use. – MPW May 22 '17 at 13:13
  • 2
    I am just getting a kick out of how many people are griping that this phrase about unclarity is unclear, while also being able to describe what was meant. It seems to me that whoever used this phrase has masterfully used a phrase that ends up being a demonstration of what it describes (whether this was done intentionally, or unwittingly). – TOOGAM May 23 '17 at 5:56

That is a variation of the phrase "as clear as mud", which means "not clear at all".

  • 3
    Can't say I agree. It's a variation of the words, as in "clear" is changed to "intuitive", but it can't be an acceptable variation of the phrase as the meaning is lost. – Michael A-B May 22 '17 at 9:21
  • 23
    @MichaelA-B Any (sarcastic) phrase of the form "as ... as mud" would be interpreted by most English speakers as being a variation of "as clear as mud", i.e. a negation of whatever property was being compared to mud. In fact, it doesn't even need to be mud. The phase "as useful as a chocolate teapot" is commonly used in the north of England to mean "useless". – Vince O'Sullivan May 22 '17 at 9:55
  • 17
    @MichaelA-B I suspect it's deliberate irony, because the phrase itself becomes completely counter-intuitive once you substitute the word "clear". – Muzer May 22 '17 at 9:59
  • 7
    @MichaelA-B The general concept here is what's often termed a "snowclone": taking an established phrase and rephrasing it for a different context, even if it doesn't 100% fit. It's a relatively common process in modern English. – R.M. May 22 '17 at 14:55
  • 5
    Exactly. "As clear as mud" is so widely known, when you substitute "as (blank) as mud", it pretty obviously means "not at all (blank)". Not to say that this type of substitution is common, but the meaning seems very clear to me. – BradC May 22 '17 at 18:23

It means, not at all intuitive. The more common expression is:

(as) clear as mud: (humorous) ​

very difficult to understand: - His instructions were as clear as mud.

(Cambridge Dictionary)

  • 1
    I think you need to clarify. "That problem was at all intuitive" doesn't parse very well and seems ambiguous. – Hot Licks May 21 '17 at 13:09
  • @HotLicks - the problem was not intuitive at all! – user66974 May 21 '17 at 16:42
  • 2
    @HotLicks It depends whether you get a round tuit or a square tuit ;) – alephzero May 21 '17 at 17:39
  • 4
    I don't understand why voters haven't preferred this answer—which includes a citation and was posted two hours before the one-line, no-reference answer that (as I type this comment) currently leads it by 6 upvotes—to the currently more popular answer. Am I missing something here? – Sven Yargs May 21 '17 at 23:21
  • @SvenYargs Probably because the other answer contains the word "variation" which this one doesn't have. The other one may therefore be more, ehm, intuitive. – Mr Lister May 22 '17 at 7:23

I would have put this as a comment...

Unfortunately the phrase you quoted is a mangled idiom. As other have pointed out - the phrase should read: "(it is) as clear as mud."

Since mud is not noted for its "clarity" as it is opaque, it means that the topic under discussion is also not very clear, or is difficult to understand..

  • I wouldn't go so far as calling it mangled. Creatively extended is more like it. I imagine the speaker/writer was getting at the intuitiveness of something, and saying it was not at all intuitive by referencing the "clear as mud" cliché. – EditingFrank Apr 11 at 1:46

This is obviously an echo of the phrase "as clear as mud", but it sounds very unnatural as it stands. To make it natural, it would have to be a response to somebody else's use of the word "intuitive". For example:

Programmer: "The user interface was designed to be as intuitive as possible. Look, if you want to sort the rows, just press Ctrl-U."
User: "Intuitive as mud".


If the phrase "as intuitive as mud" is used in a context related to software usage, software development, and user interface design, it might be a reference to Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) games. MUDs are games which are often entirely text-based, and played by typing commands.

MUD commands are sometimes hard to guess and even esoteric, based on the style of the game. For this reason something can be "as intuitive as MUD" (with or without uppercase acronym letters) for those who recognize the term. The metaphor means that something is not intuitive.

From Wikipedia on MUD:

A MUD (/ˈmʌd/; originally Multi-User Dungeon, with later variants Multi-User Dimension and Multi-User Domain),[1][2] is a multiplayer real-time virtual world, usually text-based. MUDs combine elements of role-playing games, hack and slash, player versus player, interactive fiction, and online chat. Players can read or view descriptions of rooms, objects, other players, non-player characters, and actions performed in the virtual world. Players typically interact with each other and the world by typing commands that resemble a natural language.

(Emphasis mine.)

Screenshot of the MUD1 game text interface (from 1987) played on a more modern Windows computer.

Screenshot of the MUD1 game from 1987 and its text interface, in this case accessed from/played on a more modern Windows computer.

Again from Wikipedia on MUD:

The typical MUD will describe to you the room or area you are standing in, listing the objects, players and NPCs in the area, as well as all of the exits. To carry out a task the player would enter a text command such as take apple or attack dragon. Movement around the game environment is generally accomplished by entering the direction (or an abbreviation of it) in which the player wishes to move, for example typing north or just n would cause the player to exit the current area via the path to the north.[54]

(Emphasis mine.)

The repetitive command entry, as well as commands not always being obvious, lead to development of specific MUD clients (sometimes third-party) which help the user by simplifying input. They were perhaps "clearer than MUD" ;)

  • 12
    Even as someone who used a MUD daily before, this didn't occur to me. I'm pretty confident fewer than 1 in 100 people even know what a MUD is. Absent any supporting context from the OP, this isn't a good explanation – Daenyth May 22 '17 at 16:46
  • 8
    I know exactly what a MUD is, but as you can see from what I just said, if you wanted to compare something's intuitiveness to a MUD, you'd say "intuitive as a MUD", and you'd also capitalize MUD. That's pretty clearly not remotely related. – neminem May 22 '17 at 22:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.