In this MSO question, the author refers to himself as sounding like a "tool". What does this mean? Specifically, the way it is used in the linked question implies that being a tool means being pompous or infatuated with oneself, whereas the urban dictionary and wiktionary write that it means one is being used without knowing it. Is the way it is used in that question an acceptable variant or did the OP make a mistake in usage confusing a popular word for a different concept?


4 Answers 4


According to Green's Dictionary of Slang, tool has several meanings. In the current context it would probably mean "a stupid, useless or socially inept person". The first citation for this dates from 1656.

I suspect that this meaning is derived from the first meaning under the headword "tool", "the penis", as a literal or figurative bodily organ (first citation 1553), as names for the reproductive organs are frequently employed as terms of abuse (can't think why).

The meaning of "unskilful workman" appears a little later, at 1698.


In the first paragraph of the link you're referring to, he explains exactly what he means by "tool":

I just offered a bounty on one of my questions and selected "Draw attention to question" as the reason since it is the only one that applies; the question had low views and no answers (or votes). However, the description that is shown makes me sound like a pompous idiot.

And later in the post,

That way I could have specified that I just wanted a solution without looking like I'm infatuated with myself.

Whatever the general, common, definition is for "tool", there's no better clarification than two descriptions in the same source text.

  • See, that's what I don't get. His usage of tool does not correspond with the definitions given in the urban dictionary and on wiktionary. Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 14:06
  • I understand - but lots of people use lots of words in flexible ways. Some words more than others. Especially words whose main source of definition is urbandictionary. Asking what he means, and asking what the word means are two separate questions.
    – tenfour
    Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 14:11
  • Well, is the way he used it an acceptable variant or did he make a mistake in usage confusing a popular word for a different concept? Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 14:14
  • 2
    The "pompous idiot" connotation makes perfect sense for how I have heard the word tool used in American English: I would expect it to be associated with someone who's being regarded as a petty tyrant, and isn't as smart as they think they are, but the little bit of power they have has gone to their head. It might be used to describe someone who wishes he were more powerful trying to assert his dominance over trivial issues.
    – aedia λ
    Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 20:44

From Urban Dictionary:

1. tool
One who lacks the mental capacity to know he is being used. A fool. A cretin. Characterized by low intelligence and/or self-steem.
That tool dosen't even know she's just using him.

  • 1
    This is as good a definition as you will find (so +1). However, people use "tool" in a wide variety of insulting contexts. There's usually at least a small element of lack of intelligence or tactical capabilities, but often a large dollop of something else as well.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 13:55
  • @T.E.D. Yes, and the 362 definitions on Urban Dictionary give other (or similar or duplicate) meanings/interpretations.
    – Hugo
    Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 13:59
  • There are also conflicting meanings. That's English...
    – keshlam
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 3:04
  • No, that's Urban Dictionary. Which isn't a dictionary. Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 12:01
  • Urban Dictionary is indeed a dictionary, but with different strengths and weaknesses compared to conventional dictionaries. See meta.english.stackexchange.com/q/6860/9001 for more.
    – Hugo
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 13:18

It does depend a bit upon context.

Hugo's answer is certainly one possibility, but another is a derogatory epithet derived from the OED's meaning 2b: "A bodily organ; spec. the male generative organ (or pl. organs). Now slang."

  • In the US "you tool" is pretty much synonymous with "you dick" - for instance you almost never describe a women as a tool.
    – mgb
    Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 15:33

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