I occasionally use "retarded" when chastising myself or other friends. I know it's not Politically Correct, but am I only allowed to say stupid? How long before we can't say that anymore?

Other words like "ignorant" don't work well because well, I don't like that word because it's misunderstood (even though it works well for how I say retarded . . for me it's like if you don't know something you should know).

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    How about you give us an example sentence?
    – hobodave
    Aug 12, 2010 at 22:59
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    Maybe the least offensive thing to do would be to not chastise people (yourself or otherwise) on the basis of their perceived mental adeptness. Sugarcoating an offensive idea doesn't make the idea of it less offensive.
    – nohat
    Aug 12, 2010 at 23:02
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    Somebody needs to rephrase the title of this question to, say: What is a better way to say, "Man, I'm so retarded". Too many people are misunderstanding the question as is. Aug 12, 2010 at 23:06
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    @nohat That's such a retarded comment you made. ;) Dec 20, 2010 at 4:43
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    @nohat: I couldn't disagree more. Sugarcoating by definition makes an offensive idea less offensive. Does anyone else remember the quip about a fellow so skillful with words that he could tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually looked forward to the trip? Apr 6, 2012 at 7:53

21 Answers 21


Here are several examples:

When referring to someone who has mental retardation

Speaking as someone with a few years of experience working with people with developmental disabilities the current politically correct term is what I just used.

"They are retarded" becomes "They are people with developmental disabilities.".

When referring to myself

"God, I'm so retarded" becomes "God, I'm so silly".

Other possibilities include: foolish, dumb, and stupid.

When directing it at someone

"WTF, are you retarded?" becomes "What were you thinking?"

"That was a retarded thing to do" becomes "That was an ill conceived thing to do"

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    I find it interesting that you would rephrase "retarded" but not "God". Why is one more offensive than the other?
    – mmyers
    Aug 13, 2010 at 2:17
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    @mmyers: That's completely tangential to this question.
    – hobodave
    Aug 13, 2010 at 6:14
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    So pretty soon "thinking" will become an insult?!? Aug 13, 2010 at 9:09
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    @mmyers, Because using retarded as an insult takes a sideswipe at people who are developmentally disabled, which is not cool. Using God as an intensifier may upset some people, but it's no insult. Also, I don't care much about offending the powerful. It's the disenfranchised who need protection.
    – TRiG
    Jan 7, 2011 at 18:33
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    Also I would not say "They are people with developmental disabilities" (which simply substitutes "retarded" with the phrase) but rather "They have developmental disabilities" which describes the people. Cf. "They have red hair" vs. "They are red-haired people".
    – Charles
    Mar 29, 2011 at 17:24

Perhaps you could carry around with you this list of 125,000 Shakespearean insults, and just rattle one of those off, like: I'm such a bootless, beetle-headed boor-pig and call your friend a droning, doghearted bladder.


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    Wow, this answer really came from behind! Earlier today this was at the bottom with no votes. But I like it . . . reminds me of what Homer Simpson did because he didn't want to put money into the swear jar. Trouble is, I'd need to be way more creative than I am and then I'd have to explain the creativity to the person I was just trying to call a <insert the answer here>.
    – tooshel
    Aug 13, 2010 at 8:30
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    @cori: I up-voted it again for you. Now, could somebody please up-vote it again, for me? Apr 6, 2012 at 7:46
  • @tooshel No, see, that's the beauty of obscure insults: you don't have to explain! Either the victim gets the meaning right away, or they don't and think you complimented them, avoiding an escalation entirely
    – No Name
    Jun 7, 2023 at 7:27

Here are some nice ones. Some may be more familiar, depending on your background:

  • ass (This is not offensive! "Don't be such an ass!")

  • blockhead (I especially like this one! Include all the other -head's: bonehead, meathead, thickhead, etc. "That bloke's a real blockhead!")

  • buffoon (My brother's favorite! "You're an empty-headed buffoon!")

  • dolt (I like how heavy and final this sounds.)

  • dullard (Love this one! "Gosh, Jimi, you're a dullard!")

  • dumbo

  • dummy

  • dunce (This is a nice, friendly term!)

  • dunderhead (An elderly friend's favorite. It's so funny when she uses it. "Dunderheads!")

  • fool (Not in my dictionary!)

  • idiot (I'm in the minority that consider this word slightly offensive and hurtful.)

  • ignoramus ("Stupid ignoramus of the highest order!")

  • klutz

  • moron (Way less offensive in the US but certainly not my favorite for friendly rebuttals.)

  • nitwit (There's also dimwit)

  • nincompoop (Got this a couple decades ago and loved it. "Scallywags and nincompoops!")

  • ninny ("Ninnies and idjits, all of them!")

  • oaf ("Shut up, you oaf!")

  • peabrain (Don't forget the other -brain's e.g. lamebrain!)

I have only included nouns in the above lists. Adjectives abound and it would take ages to list all my favorites! Feel free to also use custom-made sentences. One that I find more humorous is:

  • "Dude, your brain is full of sawdust!"

(A friend said this to me many years ago, and while I was mad then, I laugh now every time I recall the incident.)

NB: In my mind, all these examples are used in a friendly context, so I hope no one is offended!

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    ...Okay. I agree that "ass" can be used playfully, but it's not where I'm from. Even if you said it lightly, it would result in hurt feelings half the time. That one really depends on how you were raised/ the people you hung out with as a teenager...Just my two cents...
    – kitukwfyer
    Dec 20, 2010 at 4:27
  • @kitukwfyer: I was just trying to create a comprehensive list. Here in the US, ass is not common. That's why it would probably be more offensive than retarded, for instance. I myself don't use the word, but I grew up reading Enid Blyton's Famous Five, a children's series, where ass was freely used among the Five!
    – Jimi Oke
    Dec 20, 2010 at 4:33
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    Okay. Like I said, that was just my two cents. I didn't consider that it might be a not big deal in Britain. Like you said, though, it kind of is in the good old US of A. :)
    – kitukwfyer
    Dec 20, 2010 at 5:07
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    Seeing "moron" on the list brings Bugs Bunny's exclamation "What a maroon!" to mind. May 16, 2011 at 5:18
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    Also, why isn't "bozo" on the list? Apr 6, 2012 at 7:51

The problem with "retarded" (and equivalently "developmental disabilities") is that it puts lack of professional judgement from someone who should have known better into the same category as people who act their "normal" self.

So to keep alternatives to the facts without underhanded remarks, I'd propose

That was a bad idea.

Whoops, didn't think of that one!

I should cut down on the booze/drugs! [applicability dependent of workplace humor/ethic]

Or the English Gentleman version:

Dear programmer, your lack of professional judgement in circumventing the quality assurance process lead to an unfortunate incident, delivering a non-optimal product to the customer. You should be ashamed of yourself, since even a trained dog could follow the process better than you.

(With apologies to all dogs on the stackexchange.)

So be creative! There is no need to try to connect people's weaknesses with what you perceive negatively of others.


I tend to use "idiot(ic)." That was originally an actual, medical term for developmentally disabled people. It's out of official use, though, so it's as safe as "stupid" is at any rate.

  • @cindi: The Irish, like the British, have a long history of self-deprecation and indeed belittlement of each other. It is very much part of the culture and only a few rare people find genuine offence in it when said light-heartedly.
    – Orbling
    Dec 19, 2010 at 22:50

Here in the UK we use 'thick' (as sh1t, as mince, as two short planks ...)

Its a useful catch-all that is equally at home amongst teachers referring to pupils and stroppy (US - ratty) software engineers talking about end users or indeed support desk personnel. It can be as offensive or as gently teasing as the user intends.

  • Can we not use the word 'shit' on this site? Aug 14, 2010 at 7:31
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    Erm I think you did, a couple of months ago and it looks like the censors have let it stand. Personally I prefer to leet up my profanity in case my kids see it when they're older ...
    – immutabl
    Oct 20, 2010 at 13:52
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    @5arx - I'd honestly be way more embarrased if my kids caught me using leet.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 22, 2011 at 13:06
  • P4h! Wh47'5 wr0n9 w17h l33t?
    – immutabl
    Sep 22, 2011 at 13:52

I prefer variations on "What are/were you smoking?"

  • Oh yeah, I use this one kind of a lot. :)
    – kitukwfyer
    Aug 13, 2010 at 15:31

Personally I think you should use whatever word you feel like using at the time.

People do not have the right to go through life without being offended.

Politically correct or not, say what you feel; to cover your feelings with false diplomacy is a far greater sin of dishonesty.

It is not a profanity and a regular English word - when you are chastising people you intend it to be derogatory. Particularly between friends, such comments are a regular part of life and are meant as teasing commentary only, everyone knows that.

Of course, with freedom of speech comes causation and if you are calling random children in the street retards, then you can probably expect retribution of some sort. To quote a TV show I am fond of: "talk bollocks, expect pain".

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    @TRiG: He was talking about talking directly to other people. Why would using the word idiot be fine, but retarded not. idiot has had medical meaning at times, as has retarded, both are common words that can be used lightly or strongly depending on context. You should note that my last paragraph mitigates against encouraging insulting, as I say that you reap what you sow - if you go about insulting people, then retribution can be expected. Most insults can have wider scope than the immediate recipient, the overly sensitive will always be offended.
    – Orbling
    Jan 7, 2011 at 18:49
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    @TRiG: As I said in my post, no one has a right to not be offended. Everyone gets used to being insulted as part of growing up, a good deal of humour tends to revolve around it. People just have to roll with it, some old saying about sticks and stones comes to mind. Anyhow, you have a right to your opinion, however impolitely phrased, it obviously does not coincide with mine on this matter, so we had better drop it.
    – Orbling
    Jan 7, 2011 at 20:21
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    @TRiG: Well everyone is entitled to an opinion. As someone who is not all that far off double my ideal body weight, her "fat acceptance" and various supporting arguments as to why fat is not bad, constructed from cherry-picked papers and a somewhat delusional outlook I find very offensive. But she is entitled to her opinion, she does cause harm to others by peddling it though.
    – Orbling
    Jan 8, 2011 at 0:46
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    @TRiG: So... You do care about offending...other people standing by, huh? In that case perhaps you could have avoided gratuitous swearing in your first comment here. I swear like a trooper myself in other contexts, and I've no problem discussing profanity on EL&U. But your usage has no significant justification, so I'm afraid I find it offensive in this context. May 23, 2011 at 17:35
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    @TRiG: You think there's profanity and there's dehumanising language, but I don't see a clear distinction. I never heard anyone say prick dehumanises men, but I certainly know people (including some men) who think cunt dehumanises women. I don't specifically recall it coming up in any conversation, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that some people think fuck 'dehumanises' something they feel is explicitly sanctified by their religion, or at least is too central to the human condition to be bandied about lightly. Whatever - let's just leave it at that, okay? May 23, 2011 at 19:51

Cant help adding James May's eminently english way of saying "stupid" to this list.

"What a Pillock"

He has me in splits everytime he says that!

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    +1 pillock is particularly good, it's offensive, but in a light way. Usually used for someone who has done something stupid, as opposed to is stupid.
    – Orbling
    Dec 20, 2010 at 17:55
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    @5arx - I think pillock is more a one off thing = you pillock. May is a bit of a t__t. But using the standard unit of t__t he is only about 100milli-Clarksons
    – mgb
    Mar 29, 2011 at 0:59
  • @mgb - I think that individually and as a collective that trio display too many dislikable traits for one word to sum them up. But, I concur with 't__t' and also offer, variously 'prick', 'tosser', 'a---hole' (the English version with three dashes after the 'a' as they're v. English), 'wazzock', 'dick', the American 'douche' and 'nob' as supplementaries.
    – immutabl
    Mar 29, 2011 at 8:22
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    In modern english we now say they are "a bunch of clarksons" or a "complete clarkson"
    – mgb
    Mar 29, 2011 at 13:39

I prefer "silly". I don't think you can offend anyone with that, although strictly speaking it might not be correct usage.

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    I think the intent here is to say "someone who can't figure something out because there is something fundamentally, perhaps genetically, wrong with them". And er.. silly isn't that. Aug 12, 2010 at 22:56
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    Someone please vote this question back up, I can't anymore because of a technical rule in the website, waited to long. I feel so silly. Aug 12, 2010 at 22:57
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    @Jeff: I use "silly" all the time as a "less offensive synonym for retarded"
    – hobodave
    Aug 12, 2010 at 22:59
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    @Jeff: In the sense in which the question uses it, "retarded" does not necessarily refer to any underlying disability -- just something temporary. I believe "silly" is acceptable for a temporary bout of mild insanity, yes?
    – mmyers
    Aug 12, 2010 at 23:00
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    um, "silly" sounds like something my parent's generation would say, has about the same register as "corny", I think the person wants to have a term he can say to someone when then stick their hand in a toaster: "man, you are so _____". but "silly" doesn't get it. Aug 12, 2010 at 23:10

(Feel free to delete this if people feel it's inappropriate, it's included purely for linguistic reasons - no offense intended.)

The UK charity for people with cerebral palsy was known as the "Spastic Society" - this resulted in a lot of cruel children in the 70s and 80s referring to their less adroit friends as "spastics".

The charity finally decided that they had enough and renamed themselves as "SCOPE" - apparently children now greet failed sporting achievements with "you scope!"

  • I remember Ricky Gervais doing a sketch on this very point. :-)
    – Orbling
    May 23, 2011 at 19:36

Slow fits quite well in most cases.


"Blonde" may be offensive to blondes, but not nearly so likely to get you in trouble as "retarded." "Stupid" is probably your safest bet -- I like "pants-on-the-head stupid" for emphasis and variety.

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    When people use "blonde" in this sense, I usually think they're stupid. But that might be because I'm a blonde. :) Plus, the embarrassed apologies once they realize the slip are always awkward and a little annoying.
    – kitukwfyer
    Aug 12, 2010 at 23:19
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    Yes, I would avoid saying, "that's so blonde" mostly because it's just passé, and too easy, a bit below the belt. Aug 13, 2010 at 0:12

The Australian gentle insult of choice would be dickhead. If you call someone a dickhead, you are probably laughing at their stupidity; it's not a word you would use when angry...

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    ...In the US, this isn't gentle at all...Just warning you in case you ever come to visit. ;)
    – kitukwfyer
    Mar 29, 2011 at 1:38

In this, as in many things, I prefer to go the route of metaphor, however twisted:

"You have less sense than the Good Lord gave a common cabbage."

"No more brains than a squashed frog."

"Compares unfavorably to the competence of a trained monkey."

"Sorry, delete that - I was just having a brain fart."

"Must have slept in the day God was handing out brains..."

"If stupidity was money, Bill Gates would have nuthin' on you..."

"Fewer brain cells than an Amoeba."

"Going for Gold in the stupidity Olympics..."

"Can't count beyond 10 without taking off his shoes..."


Oops! I see that the original question was looking for politeness or "less offensiveness". Well, presumably we're talking with friends who know when our tongue is in our cheek...


Lobotomous twit.

Anyone likely to be offended won't get it. ;)

  • Brilliant! May I add that to my list of explicit insults to one day use?
    – Sk Johnson
    Nov 14, 2015 at 18:56

Have completed a draft of an article for submission to a magazine. Used the R-word, and realized that it's no longer P.C. The MSWORD thesaurus came up with nuthin. The comments were interesting. I have decided to go with "really-dumb". Less is more.


"Dense" is a nice softer alternative.


I've always been partial to chucklehead, knucklehead, and asshat.


The Irish used to refer to retarded people as innocents (maybe they still do, in Ireland), though that hardly would retain the same connotation if used as the OP is asking but I just thought I'd mention it because I think it's very sweet. The most unoffensive way of saying it as ever there has been, IMHO, and not too much of a mouth-ful (as developmentally disabled tends to be).

Personnally, I like to go with dip-shitzu


What about "Nutter"..?? 😊 😊 Isn't that also a British term...implying "insane"? I know it doesn't have the same association as "retarded" since that is meant as "stupid"...which of course, is not what "retarded" means. "Slow" is more accurate. That doesn't mean I like it; I have seen many speak abusively to others using that term as well...as an example, parents stating that one of their children is "slow" in the child's presence!!

I remember when "develomentally disabled" came into vogue; later it was re-worked and "developmentally delayed" became the more accepted phrase. That's a fairly diplomatic way of saying "slow".

Also, I don't have any issues around the needs for 'softer' language; that may be a result of having lived 25+ years in a small city with a large university. Diplomacy is an important -- and underrated -- tool for effective communication! That, I believe, is why residents of the U.K. often come up with the most creative -- and humorous -- long insulting sentences; they understand the need for diplomacy better than many residents of the U.S.

There's my .10 (.02 adjusted for long-term inflation ;)

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