At work, someone told me something I did is idiotic.

I retorted that they shouldn't call me an idiot.

They said they didn't call me an idiot.

What ensued was a highly semantic discussion about them saying they didn't use the word idiot itself and that, if they had, this would mean the person always does idiotic things, which they said is not what they meant. I said I can call someone an idiot for doing one idiotic thing (like if someone crashes into me whilst driving because they're on the phone, then I can say, "You idiot!" - this doesn't mean I think they do idiotic things all the time, not least because I wouldn't know).

In other words, if someone says what you did is idiotic, is it right to think and be upset that they called you an idiot?

  • 1
    sorta like being called a fool v acting foolish!
    – lbf
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 14:00
  • 'If the cap fits, wear it' is the saying that means ' if one has acted foolishly then, on that occasion at least, one was a fool'.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 15:12
  • 1
    Short answer to the Q. as asked: No!
    – TrevorD
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 0:14
  • @TrevorD Can you at least substantiate your answer?
    – Neo
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 8:44
  • 1
    I wrote it as a comment because I didn't want to bother substantiating it. You have 3 answers below, so I don't think it is worth further effort. As per the rules of this forum, did you bother to look up the words in a dictionary first? See the second item under How do I ask a good question?.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 13:15

3 Answers 3


The person who called you an idiot is really saying that in that situation you were an idiot, though he might not realize that that is what he's actually inferring. However, you shouldn't take it to mean that your existence is that of an idiot existing. If you performed one heroic act, once in your life, do you really think in your heart of hearts that you are really a hero in existence? It's not what you think in your mind that tells what you what you really are but instead what you think in your heart is the truth of who you really are. Since we don't know your heart nor your colleague's then only you have the true answer to the question " Am I an idiot?"


I would say there's a difference. Let's say I had a big exam that I didn't study for. I could say the decision not to study was stupid, but that doesn't mean I'm "stupid" per se. Or that I would have done poorly on the exam had I studied.

I understand it's hard not to take this stuff personally. If I were to learn something I didn't feel confident in, and someone said the work I produced was idiotic, I would feel like an idiot (or stupid) and not cut out for it. But, it's all mindset and perspective, in my opinion.


You seem to be arguing that because he described a single act as idiotic, he was calling you an idiot. However, if you call another driver an idiot, you are only describing the single act! Would you have preferred he called you an idiot, so it was understood he was only referring to the one act?!

In short, strictly speaking he is correct, we should be able to separate the act from the actor, but in reality the two are often conflated.

His remark was crass at best, but I would heed the advice of Brigham Young:

He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.

  • I think you are conflating your own arguments. You've mentioned my colleague describing a single act as idiotic and that calling someone an idiot is referring to a single act. You've left no room for referring to being an idiot in general. So I would submit that calling someone an idiot can refer to either the single act they're doing, or what they are generally. The key is context.
    – Neo
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 14:01

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