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.’”