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Is there any adjective that means "not intellectually curious", but which isn't simply the opposite of a more common word, like 'incurious' and 'uninterested'?

I found some ideas from the definition of incurious:

Lacking intellectual inquisitiveness or natural curiosity; uninterested.

But these tend to be opposites of more common words.

Are there any unique words to describe the quality of a pronounced absence of intellectual curiosity?

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    "But these tend to be opposites of more common words." - which common words? Also, why doesn't 'incurious' work for you? (because 'incurious' seems a perfect match for what you say you want) – Mitch Apr 17 at 16:20
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    @Mitch I’m looking for ways of referring to the quality without unintentionally drawing attention to its opposite. Particularly, in trying to distinguish the quality categorically, and without any allusion/hints toward the continuum it may fall on, but just to the quality in and of itself. By analogy, imagine if “tall” (and its synonyms) didn’t exist and you had to say “unshort”. It would still do the job, but there could be occasion to prefer a direct binding that doesn’t draw any attention to the quality of being short, but only/strictly to the quality of being tall. – stevec Apr 17 at 16:38
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    I can't tell but I think you're asking for a word that doesn't have a negative morpheme in it, like 'un-' or 'in-' or '-less'. Is that right? If so you should definitely clarify you question to explicitly ask for that (a comment is not enough). I think the formal term for this is 'without a negation morpheme', but spell it out with an example to make sure. – Mitch Apr 17 at 20:29
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    I sometimes think of some people as 'terminally incurious' by which I mean possessing a certain kind of bovine stupidity, which is composed more of unwillingness than inability to look more than about one centimetre beyond the end of their noses. – Michael Harvey Apr 18 at 20:18
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    I think there must be some well-known fictional figure who exemplifies this trait; it's on the tip of my tongue, but I can't name him. The placid stubbornness of a Bartleby, but not Bartleby exactly... I thought of Cincinnatus preferring his plow to the Senate, but he was no intellectual lightweight.... The trait I'm thinking of is exemplified by a lot of nameless farmers in jokes, like the one who says "What's time to a pig?" – Quuxplusone Apr 20 at 2:02

10 Answers 10

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I think "complacent" may be a close answer.

adj. having or showing a lack of interest or concern

Source: Merriam-Webster

(A correct answer would be based on how you describe this person. Does he/she know enough of the subject to not investigate or is the subject of discussion too bland for the person's taste so as to not arouse any interest? If the person is generally disinclined to new things, then perhaps "apathetic" or "numb" would make more sense, however, both these words lean more toward emotion than intellect.)

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I would most likely use the word vapid. M-W gives:

"lacking flavor, zest, interest, animation, or spirit : FLAT, DULL"

I find that in contemporary American use, the word (when a applied to a person) suggests that the person doesn't think too hard about anything.

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  • This is definitely the word I would use. Possibly also "dense" if the context isn't too formal. – COTO Apr 19 at 17:12
  • I don't see/hear vapid used that often (US). – JeffC Apr 20 at 4:34
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    I think you hear "dumb blondes" also called vapid. The problem is vapid implies overall stupidity, but an incurious person may very well be smart. – Owen Reynolds Apr 20 at 5:13
  • Don't hear vapid in the US? I guess it depends on what circles you move in.... – Lambie Apr 20 at 13:58
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I would describe such a person as dull. When used to describe a person it can have the following meanings:

[...]
4. Intellectually weak or obtuse; stupid.
5. Lacking responsiveness or alertness; insensitive: half-asleep and dull to the noises in the next room.
6. Dispirited; depressed: a dull mood.
[...]

(these are from the American Heritage Dictionary).

Note, these meanings are different from those when it is applied to an object - where it means the opposite of shiny - or an event - where it means boring.

Edited to add: A person who is dull (adjective) is also known as a dullard (noun):

A person regarded as mentally dull; a dolt.

This is again from the American Heritage Dictionary.

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    I would note that you're using the 4th definition of "dull". I'd speculate that vanishingly few English speakers would, upon hearing that someone is "dull", would think the intent was to say the subject was "not intellectually curious". Rather they'd think of them according to the first definition of the American Heritage Dictionary which is "Arousing little interest; lacking liveliness; boring" – Dean MacGregor Apr 19 at 15:27
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The term "philistine" applies to culture in general, which is not quite "intellectuality", as this latter substantive "intersects" with it.

(SOED) culture […] 6. A particular form, stage, or type of intellectual development or civilization in a society.

(OED) philistine adj. […] 2. Uneducated, unenlightened; indifferent or hostile to culture; aesthetically unsophisticated. (user LPH's bold and italic)

There is a specific term to name believers in the negativeness of intellectualism. (Wikipedia)

anti-intellectualism Hofstadter described anti-intellectualism as “resentment of the life of the mind, and those who are considered to represent it; and a disposition to constantly minimize the value of that life.

There is one problem with this term: you can't quite call those thinkers anti-intellectuals, would they so much as little refute intellectuality in a rational manner; strictly speaking, anti-intellectuals are intellectuals and the term is inherently a paradox: you do not criticize what you do not know.

Let's look now at the term "aintellectual", a term of recent origin that would come to mind naturally, but that few dictionaries include.

(Urban dictionary) absence or complete lack of intelligence

♦ The only word we could come up with to express the extent of the stupidity my niece's stepmother. "j is so ridiculously dumb, she is aintellectual!"

It seems that there is only a gradation of disinterest in intellectual matters, and in the extreme this comes down merely to complete dumbness. Apparently there is no single word counterpart of "philistine", not even an in-between, possibly because one of the important aspects of the essence of being man is intellect; is hardly a human being a human being without intellect, if that is conceivable.

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    I don't think philistine really works. It seems most often applied to those who don't like/aren't interested in/totally reject the speaker's particular idea of culture. E.g. the abstract artist might call those who prefer representational art philistines. Likewise, one can be completely disinterested - or even actively anti-interested - in particular subjects, while still having plenty of interest in other areas. E.g. me WRT spectator sports, popular "music", Kardashians and their ilk... – jamesqf Apr 17 at 17:24
  • There are several problems with this word – Strawberry Apr 18 at 12:24
  • I wonder if the choice of aintellectual instead of anintellectual is a deliberate joke. – Tanner Swett Apr 19 at 1:26
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    @TannerSwett: It looks to me like a pun, i.e. the intended spelling is actually ain'tellectual. Of course, a properly educated person would say isntellectual. – Quuxplusone Apr 19 at 2:30
  • @Strawberry Can you hint at what you think are the problems? – Mitch Apr 20 at 14:38
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Maybe "apathetic" -

having or showing little or no interest, concern, or emotion

(From Merriam-Webster.)

Technically this is an opposite word, but it's somewhat diverged from being just the opposite of pathos.

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Without knowing more details about why the person might be "not intellectual curious", it's difficult to know what aspect to focus on. There are various 'not curious' and 'not intellectual' answers already given, as well as various 'not caring' situations.

But there's also the case where they're not simply apathetic but are actively hostile to intellect or curiosity. For example (definitions from the American Heritage Dictionary):

dogmatic:

2.a. Asserting or insisting upon ideas or principles, especially when unproven or unexamined, in an imperious or arrogant manner: "People in recovery groups can be dogmatic, asserting that the group's way is 'the way' or bashing other approaches" (Anne M. Fletcher).

b. Characterized by such assertion, often with an unconsidered rejection of criticism: a dogmatic adherence to a single educational model.

Or call the person a Luddite:

  1. One who opposes technical or technological change.
2

What about "Neanderthal?" or "troglodyte?" both words conjure the unthinking, prehistoric human.

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    Do they? Please explain why. We like sourced answers with citations. – Andrew Leach Apr 20 at 15:17
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How about sequacious?

Highly impressionable or unquestioning, especially in following a leader or embracing an idea:

False philosophers ... have beclouded educated but sequacious minds.

[American Heritage Dictionary]

Lexico gives

(of a person) lacking independence or originality of thought.

If you read anything without questioning it, then you are just part of the sequacious herd.

EDIT

I think @Brian Donovan has adverted to a nicety that had previously eluded me. I agree with him that sequacious isn't the proper word for the given description.

I therefore suggest meh, which the AHD defines as:

meh

1.Indifferent or apathetic:

I felt meh about going out, so I stayed in and watched a movie.

  1. Unexceptional; so-so:

We thought the concert was meh and left early.

Blasé is another such word. AHD defines it as:

Unconcerned; nonchalant

had a blasé attitude about housecleaning.

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    A bent for following s.o. or s.t. is central to the meaning (and etymology) of that term, but does not figure at all in O.P.'s question. – Brian Donovan Apr 17 at 12:30
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In practice I often read "blasé" for this. It's situational -- you're incurious about some particular thing, not in general. It's also more specific -- you're not curious because you've done it too many times. But in practice overwritten novels have things like "oh, we'll do this, and that, and ...", "relax," she said with a blasé look, "it's a garden variety drug deal". Or "you seem pretty blasé about this.", "It either works or it doesn't. Don't overthink it".

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  • ...Not blasé? – Michael Harvey Apr 18 at 20:13
  • @MichaelHarvey spent 10 minutes trying to figure out how to type an agou and gave up. – Owen Reynolds Apr 18 at 22:31
  • On a Windows keyboard, hold down the Alt key and type 130 on the keypad, then let go the Alt key, or else copy and paste it from e.g. Le Monde toute l'actualité en continu – Michael Harvey Apr 19 at 5:56
  • @OwenReynolds FYI, it's an acute accent or accent aigu (in French) – 0xFEE1DEAD Apr 19 at 13:43
  • @OwenReynolds ctrl-' e will do it in many text editors; Firefox and Notepad do not seem to recognize that key sequence. Similarly, ctrl-` can be used for a grave accent, and ctrl-: for an umlaut. – Andrew Morton Apr 19 at 21:22
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I think the word you're seeking is mumpsimus:

someone who obstinately clings to an error, bad habit or prejudice, even after the foible has been exposed and the person humiliated; also, any error, bad habit, or prejudice clung to in this fashion

also

a traditional notion that is obstinately retained despite being unreasonable person who adheres to such a notion

It's origins:

The term originates from an apocryphal story about a poorly educated Catholic priest saying Latin mass who, in reciting the postcommunion prayer Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine (meaning: "What we have received in the mouth, Lord"), instead of sumpsimus (meaning: "we have received") substitutes the non-word mumpsimus, presumably as a mondegreen. After being made aware of his mistake, he nevertheless persisted with his erroneous version, whether from stubbornness, force of habit, or refusing to believe he was mistaken

Note that mumpsimus is a noun describing person or notion (not an adjective).

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    It's customary to supply a definition, and an example usage is nice as well. Have a look at the format of the other answers. – user888379 Apr 18 at 1:12
  • I think both people that used "mumpsimus" died before 1900. – JeffC Apr 20 at 4:36

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