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Is "stupider" a word?
March 3, 2008 9:32 PM   Subscribe

Who's "stupider"?

Tonight a friend lamented: "(So and so) thinks that I'm stupider than her!"

I giggled and said that "stupider" is not a word. I felt like an accidentally mean teenager that had just made an amazing point.

I then got home and googled the term only to find that many online dictionaries find it perfectly acceptable.

Is it a passable adjective, and, if so, why have I always thought otherwise? Does anyone else know/remember this rule?

I was raised in Dallas/Ft Worth in the 80's/90's if this makes any socio-linguistic difference. Did I have uncommonly stuffy teachers or were they just plain wrong?
posted by macrowave to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
"Stupider" and "stupidest" are indeed correct.

http://www.bartleby.com/61/76/S0827600.html

SYLLABICATION: stu•pid
ADJECTIVE: Inflected forms: stu•pid•er, stu•pid•est

posted by Mikey-San at 9:45 PM on March 3, 2008


Your friend should have said,

"(So and so) thinks I'm stupider than she!"

Y'know, if you really wanted to worry about such things.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 9:47 PM on March 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


I was taught, in my stuffy elementary school, that the proper usage would be "more stupid". There was a whole list of adjectives we memorized that were not intensified by "-er" but by "more". So I'm with you on that.

But probably it's one of these things where "stupider" has gained ground over time; the boundaries of what's proper change over time. My judgment about it now is that it's ok in informal uses but would still be out of place in formal uses.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:48 PM on March 3, 2008


I don't think of "stupider" as an acceptable word either. I was in school in the 70s/80s in Kansas, and we were taught that anything with more than one syllable needed to have "more" in front of it to form the superlative (i.e. "more stupid"). Only words with one syllable could have the "er" (i.e. "dumber").
posted by amyms at 9:50 PM on March 3, 2008


we were taught that anything with more than one syllable needed to have "more" in front of it to form the superlative

She is the messier roomate.
That BBQ sauce is even tastier!

I'm not so sure that rule is correct. Or at the very least, it has fallen by the wayside as language has evolved.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:56 PM on March 3, 2008


That's the stupidest thing I've ever seen!!






(that sound okay?)
posted by trig at 10:01 PM on March 3, 2008


For some reason stupidest sounds totally right, but I would've been right there with you complaining that stupider is not a word. I imagine it's due to the same phenomenon that now accepts empathic, where there proper word (as I was taught) would've been empathetic.
posted by Phire at 10:21 PM on March 3, 2008


I always thought that usually words of Germanic origin get -er/est, while words with Latin roots get more/most. I can think of exceptions though: large/larger, for example (though maybe the 'short word' thing comes into play here) and on the flip side words like "helpful." Anyway, stupid is a Latin root, so maybe that's why more/most was considered "proper" usage.

Personally "stupider" and "more stupid" are both fine for me, but "most stupid" feels less good than "stupidest."

One more thing: I looked at search results for "stupider" and "more stupid" in Project Gutenberg texts. There are somewhat more results for "more stupid," but there might be some interesting trends there with respect to dates and origin (for example, the first page of "more stupid" results contained a few translated texts). Or not.

Interestingly, Gutenberg also far prefers "stupidest" to "most stupid," even with usages like "a most stupid fellow"!

What a stupid word :)
posted by trig at 10:29 PM on March 3, 2008


the norm used to be that -er only got added to words of one syllable or that ended in y (hence the messy / tasty etc component), so "stupider" and "intelligenter" and so forth were out. It seems now the ordinary two syllable words have become more acceptable, although it is still in the process of shifting.

As I mentioned here, "simpler" is now preferred to "more simple" - but three syllable words & up are still generally unacceptable... actually, i guess there are still two syllable words that would be awkwarder than we would accept with an extra syllable :)

But stupider is largely accepted now - when exactly the shift took place I'm not sure, but it's basically a majority rules thing. If enough people use it, it's a word.
posted by mdn at 10:32 PM on March 3, 2008


I agree that "stupider" sounds wrong. It reminds me of Rugrat-speak...

"You're so stupid, Phillip!"

"Nuh-uh, you're more stupider, Lillian!"

Also, I always thought there was a difference between "empathic" and "empathetic". The latter sounds more pedestrian, like the word "sympathetic", while the other seems to have a more powerful quality. I guess because the emphasis on the "path" makes it sound like "psychopathic" and "telepathic".
posted by Rhaomi at 10:46 PM on March 3, 2008


"Girls go to Jupiter
To get more stupider
Boys go to Mars
To get more chocolate bars"

Yes, that's all I can contribute: that, according to my memory of stupid(est) schoolyard chants, "stupider" is a-okay. My grown-up self, however, dislikes it, and would use "more stupid," thus ruining the rhyme.

And not to derail, but my problem with the empathic/empathetic thing is that empath is a word already, at least in certain contexts. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, empath means "(chiefly in science fiction) a person with the paranormal ability to apprehend the mental or emotional state of another individual." Because an empath is much more than merely someone who is empathetic, to say "empathic," to me, carries a weird connotation.

Yeah. And I learned the word "empath" from playing Ultima VII when I was 13. So today's post has been brought to you, apparently, by some strange combination of my carefree youth and my uptight adulthood.
posted by roombythelake at 11:07 PM on March 3, 2008


anything with more than one syllable needed to have "more" in front of it to form the superlative

Jeezopete, that is probably one of the stupider grammar rules I've ever heard. It probably was invented along with the rule that you can't split infinitives in English, because Latin doesn't have split infinitives.

Now, I can almost agree that it's a style suggestion with merit, as such words can become ungainlier the more syllables are added, but I wouldn't consider it wrong.

The word probably is like many others with a very old provenance, but there's a tendency to treat some of these forms with suspicion and many people seem to consider them lower-class. Most people say sing, sang, sung, but there are some forms, like drug for dragged or snuck for sneaked, that are unfamiliar even if they're perfectly grammatical. Here in the Midwest, I'd say they're fairly common and even mainstream. Yet some people seem to consider them very lower-class or "rustic".
posted by dhartung at 12:18 AM on March 4, 2008


Am I really the first one to suggest you should just go and look in the dictionary?
posted by Zé Pequeno at 1:24 AM on March 4, 2008


Well my Oxford University Press Dictionary, Thesaurus and Wordpower Guide (2001) lists 'stupider' as a word.
posted by missmagenta at 2:28 AM on March 4, 2008


OED doesn't have either.
posted by unSane at 4:23 AM on March 4, 2008


There are degrees of intelligence, but there are are no degrees of stupidity. You are either stupid or you are not.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 4:43 AM on March 4, 2008


Because I was taught that the correct use was "more stupid", I've only ever used 'stupider' ironically, as in the childrens' rhyme above, the same way I would spell the word S-M-R-T.

If "stupider" is now acceptable, I suppose I will have to switch to "stupiderer".
posted by rokusan at 5:06 AM on March 4, 2008


anything with more than one syllable needed to have "more" in front of it to form the superlative

Jeezopete, that is probably one of the stupider grammar rules I've ever heard. It probably was invented along with the rule that you can't split infinitives in English, because Latin doesn't have split infinitives.


I was taught that for one syllable use -er or -est, for three + syllables use more or most, and for two syllables its on a case by case basis. Grammar rules may be stupid in general, but I've found that one it a good rule of thumb.
posted by fermezporte at 5:23 AM on March 4, 2008


Am I really the first one to suggest you should just go and look in the dictionary?

Like the ones he mentioned he checked in the original question?
posted by smackfu at 5:37 AM on March 4, 2008


"Stupider" has been used by Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Henry James, and so on, so its acceptability isn't anything new.
posted by trig at 5:52 AM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, discussed previously with similar lack of consensus.

Generally, when there's an argument about whether something's a word or not, it's a word. It may not be acceptable in certain kinds of contexts, but that's another story. There are really two questions here.

1. Do people understand what I mean by the world 'XYZZY'?

and

2. Am I using the word 'XYZZY' in a way that is appropriate to the context and my intentions?


So, in the case of 'Stupider', the answer to 1. is clearly 'yes', but 2. is context sensitive. If you're in a bar with friends, probably it's fine. If you're writing a job application to edit a newspaper, probably not.
posted by unSane at 6:48 AM on March 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


Jeezopete, that is probably one of the stupider grammar rules I've ever heard.

Agreed. Why are people so in love with simplistic "rules" whose only use is to lord it over other people stupid enough to believe them? There is no hard-and-fast rule about when to use most and when -er; in general, the longer a word is the more likely it is to take more, but many words can go either way. If stupider sounds wrong to you, it is not part of your dialect; if someone else uses it, it's clearly part of theirs, and what the fuck do you care? I've said this before and I'll say it again: give me a sufficient corpus of speech and writing from anyone who goes around sneering at other people for their "bad English" and I guarantee to find enough "mistakes" (by the traditional stupid "rules") to make that person want to commit hara-kiri (which "should" be seppuku, according to one variety of usage snob).

OED doesn't have either.


The OED does not give comparatives and superlatives for adjectives, but it does have citations with stupider ("Wales that the stupider sort of Englishman prefers"; "If you weren't stupider than a mud-duck").
posted by languagehat at 7:08 AM on March 4, 2008


I think stupider is fine. What's in or not dictionaries is mostly irrelevant--if people use the word and other people understand that word...it's a word.
posted by aerotive at 7:54 AM on March 4, 2008


Now that I have thought about it, both "stupider" and "more stupid" sound utterly wrong to my ears; I don't think I'd use either, preferring an alternative like "dumber" or "less intelligent," depending on context.
posted by Cricket at 10:11 AM on March 4, 2008


Just to pile on, of course it is a word. What else would it be. A word is a distinct meaningful unit of language. Even if it was not in a dictionary it is still a word. The language defines the dictionary, not the other way around.
posted by d4nj450n at 11:47 AM on March 4, 2008


Stupider and stupidest are fine.

But you better not let me hear you say funner or funnest in my classroom.
posted by Rash at 2:06 PM on March 4, 2008


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