Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

We should avoid using offensive words in English.

Today you’ll find out why you shouldn’t use the word ‘stupid.’

In today’s episode, we answer a great listener question.

Get ready for some deep thinking about language, connection, and ableism.

Also, learn how to challenge the English language status quo.

The word ‘stupid’

Today’s episode was inspired by an All Ears English listener.

Here is the question:

Hi Lindsay!

First, thank you for your helpful and interesting podcasts. I love them. I have a question. Maybe you find it very strange, sorry for that. Is the word ‘stupid’ offensive in English? I ask this because I live in Mexico. Here if you call someone ‘stupido’ it’s very offensive. Could you please explain how it works in English and give some synonyms that are not so offensive. Thank you! Have a nice one.

– Irina Tar

Definitely, the word ‘stupid’ is offensive, especially if you’re directing it at someone.

Some may use it to describe systems such as bureaucracy.

But there are other words you can use that are less offensive.

You can listen to a previous related episode AEE 1886: Four Phrases to Avoid Being Dismissive in English.

This episode will prevent you from making the mistake of being offensive and breaking a connection.

The harm of offensive words

The word ‘stupid’ is defined in the dictionary as having or showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense.

Here is an example from the dictionary:

Apprehension was numbing her brain and making her stupid.

Many people are guilty of using this word.

It’s very informal but it is rude.

There is an article from Harvard Business Review written by Rakshitha Arni Ravishankar that shares why there are some words you shouldn’t use and what these words are.

The title is “Why You Need to Stop Using These Words and Phrases.”

From the article, if someone says something you disagree with, don’t say they are ‘stupid’, ‘insane’, ‘crazy’, ‘lame’, or ‘dumb.’

If you do this, you have, whether unknowingly or not, participated in spreading ableist language.

What is ableism?

Ableism is defined as discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior.

It can manifest as an attitude, stereotype, or outright offensive comment or behavior.

When it comes to language, ableism often shows up as metaphors, jokes, and euphemisms.

You may be surprised to learn that your response was a form of discrimination.

People use ableist words and phrases every day without realizing the harm they do.

Calling someone ‘stupid’ to insult their intelligence is ableism.

Alternatives to ‘stupid’

When learning a new language, you have to be aware of what words might offend the person you’re talking to.

Using ‘stupid’ is offensive and there are many other words or phrases you can use.

These alternatives express that something is wrong or you don’t like a certain point of view.

In this episode we provide 3 better options.

#1: Ridiculous

The bureaucracy is ridiculous.
That’s ridiculous!

#2: “I disagree”

I disagree with what you said.

#3: “That was _____ remark.”

That was not an intelligent remark.
That was not a well-thought-out remark.


The following roleplay will help you better understand how to use alternative words to ‘stupid’.

In this scenario, Lindsay and Michelle are friends who are complaining about a waitress.

Lindsay: Why did she just say that?
Michelle: I don’t know. Maybe she thought you didn’t like your food?
Lindsay: That’s ridiculous.
Michelle: Yeah that was not an intelligent remark.


There are nicer ways to call out things we don’t like.

We should focus on making positive connections and not spreading hate and negativity.

Some words can be offensive and we should avoid them.

You should be careful and assess your thoughts and the words you use before starting a conversation.

You wouldn’t want to break a connection because you used the wrong word and have offended someone.

Language is ever-evolving just like our times and we should adapt to the changes and shift our mindset.

Words are powerful, so you should use them wisely.

What do you think of today’s episode?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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