adjective, dumb·er, dumb·est.

Verb Phrases

dumb down, Informal. to make or become less intellectual, simpler, or less sophisticated: to dumb down a textbook; American movies have dumbed down.

Origin of dumb

before 1000; Old English; cognate with Old Norse dumbr, Gothic dumbs, Old Saxon dumb, Old High German tump, German dumm
Related formsdumb·ly, adverbdumb·ness, nounqua·si-dumb, adjectivequa·si-dumb·ly, adverb

Usage note

Dumb in the sense “lacking the power of speech” is perceived as insulting when describing humans (but not animals), probably because dumb also means “stupid; dull-witted.” The noun dummy in the sense “person who lacks the power of speech” is also perceived as insulting, as are the terms deaf-and-dumb, deaf-mute, and mute. The adjective hearing-impaired is acceptable though not the term of choice, partly because it lacks directness. The preferred term is deaf, which makes no reference to an inability to speak or communicate; the capitalized Deaf signals membership in this community.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for dumbness

Contemporary Examples of dumbness

  • This is not dumbness, or denseness, or illiteracy, but belligerent unenlightenment.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Ignorant America

    Tunku Varadarajan

    August 30, 2010

Historical Examples of dumbness

  • The dumbness that had fallen from his daughter seemed to have dropped upon him.

    The Scapegoat

    Hall Caine

  • Molly says, at length awakening to the fact of her lover's dumbness.

    Molly Bawn

    Margaret Wolfe Hamilton

  • At Oxford Circus they got out, and left me pondering on deafness and dumbness.

  • For the sake of his hoard he had taken on himself the dumbness and deafness of a fish.

  • In her constant living with animals she had caught their dumbness and their calm.

    Madame Bovary

    Gustave Flaubert

British Dictionary definitions for dumbness



lacking the power to speak, either because of defects in the vocal organs or because of hereditary deafness
lacking the power of human speechdumb animals
temporarily lacking or bereft of the power to speakstruck dumb
refraining from speech; uncommunicative
producing no sound; silenta dumb piano
made, done, or performed without speech
  1. slow to understand; dim-witted
  2. foolish; stupidSee also dumb down
(of a projectile or bomb) not guided to its target
Derived Formsdumbly, adverbdumbness, noun

Word Origin for dumb

Old English; related to Old Norse dumbr, Gothic dumbs, Old High German tump
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for dumbness



Old English dumb "silent, unable to speak," from PIE *dheubh- "confusion, stupefaction, dizziness," from root *dheu- (1) "dust, mist, vapor, smoke," and related notions of "defective perception or wits."

The Old English, Old Saxon (dumb), Gothic (dumbs), and Old Norse (dumbr) forms of the word meant only "mute, speechless;" in Old High German (thumb) it meant both this and "stupid," and in Modern German this latter became the only sense. Meaning "foolish, ignorant" was occasionally in Middle English, but modern use (1823) comes from influence of German dumm. Related: dumber; dumbest.

Applied to silent contrivances, hence dumbwaiter. As a verb, in late Old English, "to become mute;" c.1600, "to make mute." To dumb (something) down is from 1933.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper