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9 Ways of Saying "Stupid" Across the United States

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You could call someone stupid, or you could say he hasn't the sense to find his rear-end with both hands and a roadmap. "She's an idiot!" you could proclaim, or, "If her brains were dynamite, she wouldn't have enough to blow her nose." Get smart about how to say "stupid" with these nine regional idioms brought to you in our continued partnership with the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE).

1. NOT ENOUGH SENSE TO COME IN OUT OF THE RAIN

When DARE surveyed readers to complete the sentence "He hasn't sense enough to," the phrase "come in out of the rain" got the most responses. It also has a slew of variations, including get in out of the rain, come in out of the wet, and get out of a shower of rain.

2. NOT ENOUGH SENSE TO GREASE A GIMLET

A gimlet, in addition to being a delicious cocktail, is a tool used for boring. So someone who doesn’t think to grease one isn’t the sharpest gimlet in the toolbox. According to DARE, you might hear this put-down in Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, and New York.

3. NOT ENOUGH SENSE TO BELL A BUZZARD

Why would anyone want to bell a buzzard, and why would you be considered a numbskull if you didn't think to do so? Alternates of this saying include bell a bull or cow, which make more sense. But a buzzard? DARE says belling and releasing these birds of prey was an occasional practice, at least according to “scattered 19th- and early 20th-century accounts, and that such birds were regarded by some with superstitious fear.” But there’s no explanation as to why “the practice should have been regarded as self-evidently desirable or simple.”

4. NOT ENOUGH SENSE TO POUND SAND DOWN A RATHOLE

The same seems to go for pounding sand down a rathole, something you’ll hear chiefly west of the Mississippi River, according to DARE, and in the North Central region and upstate New York. The idiom pound sand means to waste time or act ineffectively. The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation is from 1857; slang expert Jonathan Green says that it might be a euphemistic shortening of go pound sand up one’s ass. However, like belling a buzzard, why pounding sand down a rathole would be considered basic isn’t clear.

5. NOT ENOUGH SENSE TO POUR PISS OUT OF A BOOT

Or, if you want to get even more colorful, pump piss out of a boot with the directions on the heel. Dumping urine from footwear before putting it on definitely seems smart, but we wonder how the pee got in there in the first place.

6. NOT ENOUGH SENSE TO CARRY GUTS TO A BEAR

This odd expression might be heard in Maine, New Hampshire, Maryland, Virginia, and Louisiana. There's also he’s not fit to carry guts to a bear, or he's unable “to do the most menial or simple task.” The idea might come from old-timey bear-baiting days, when carrying innards to the poor beasts was apparently elementary. The OED’s earliest citation is from 1692: “Wee, the Kings Officers, crys the Fellow that carrys Guts to the Bears.”

7. NOT TO KNOW B FROM A BULL’S FOOT

This expression meaning someone “ignorant or illiterate” is chiefly used in the South and Midland regions, perhaps from the idea that “the foot- or track-print of a bull is somewhat like the letter B,” or perhaps simply as a colorful play on not knowing A from B. Varieties include not to know bee from a bull’s foot, not to know beeswax from bull foot, and not to know beef from bull’s foot.

8. NOT TO KNOW SPLIT BEANS FROM COFFEE

In the South Midland and Texas, you might say this of someone who is “very ignorant or stupid.” From a December 2005 issue of the Austin American-Statesman: “Former Rep. Barry Telford of DeKalb [TX], a Democratic leader under Laney, said: ‘Bush didn’t know split beans from coffee about the Legislature when he was first elected.’”

9. NOT TO KNOW SIC 'EM

You’ll hear this ignoramus phrase in the Inland North, the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, and Upper Midwest. But what does “sic 'em” mean? William Safire explored this back in 1993 when then Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole told him, "Those guys in the White House just don't know sic 'em.” Safire put in a call to DARE and found out that at least one reader thought someone who doesn’t know sic 'em is as lazy and shiftless as a dog who shows no “instant reaction to the command ‘sic 'em.’”

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Words
How New Words Become Mainstream
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If you used the words jeggings, muggle, or binge-watch in a sentence 30 years ago, you would have likely been met with stares of confusion. But today these words are common enough to hold spots in the Oxford English Dictionary. Such lingo is a sign that English, as well as any other modern language, is constantly evolving. But the path a word takes to enter the general lexicon isn’t always a straightforward one.

In the video below, TED-Ed lays out how some new words become part of our everyday speech while others fade into obscurity. Some words used by English speakers are borrowed from other languages, like mosquito (Spanish), avatar (Sanskrit), and prairie (French). Other “new” words are actually old ones that have developed different meanings over time. Nice, for example, used to only mean silly, foolish, or ignorant, and meat was used as blanket term to describe any solid food given to livestock.

The internet alone is responsible for a whole new section of our vocabulary, but even the words most exclusive to the web aren’t always original. For instance, the word meme was first used by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene.

To learn more about the true origins of the words we use on a regular basis, check out the full story from TED-Ed below.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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language
The Evolution of "Two" in the Indo-European Language Family
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The Indo-European language family includes most of the languages of Europe as well as many languages in Asia. There is a long research tradition that has shown, though careful historical comparison, that languages spanning a huge linguistic and geographical range, from French to Greek to Russian to Hindi to Persian, are all related to each other and sprung from a common source, Proto-Indo-European. One of the techniques for studying the relationship of the different languages to each other is to look at the similarities between individual words and work out the sound changes that led from one language to the next.

This diagram, submitted to Reddit by user IronChestplate1, shows the word for two in various Indo-European languages. (The “proto” versions, marked with an asterisk, are hypothesized forms, built by working backward from historical evidence.) The languages cluster around certain common features, but the words are all strikingly similar, especially when you consider the words for two in languages outside the Indo-European family: iki (Turkish), èjì (Yoruba), ni (Japanese), kaksi (Finnish), etc. There are many possible forms two could take, but in this particular group of languages it is extremely limited. What are the chances of that happening by accident? Once you see it laid out like this, it doesn’t take much to put *dwóh and *dwóh together.

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