…vs. stupidity

I swear I’ve suffered through this argument for the last time: is that stupid or it is ignorant? Does that make us stupid or ignorant if we use (especially) these words incorrectly?

“Stupidity is the deliberate cultivation of ignorance.” –William Gaddis

“Youth ages, immaturity is outgrown, ignorance can be educated, drunkenness sobered, but there is no cure for stupidity.” -Aristophanes

“There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life.” –Frank Zappa

“Stupidity is the same as evil if you judge by the results.” –Margaret Atwood


The English word we know as stupidity, which didn’t appear until sometime in the 16th century, derives from the Latin word stupeo (“to stun” or “to be stunned”). Strangely, the Greek cognate of this is týpto (“to strike”).

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I thought it was fascinating that it was not (as expected) rooted to words that referred to knowledge or even the lack thereof. It came more closely to the way that today we might use the words stupor or stupefy. Like some kind of awe or drunkenness, this word portrays some inability to use our mental facilities because we are under some temporary (or ongoing) spell… An apparent choice is not involved.

Could it be a realization that “strikes” a person stupid? Was stupidity once viewed as the dullness that results from a physical strike on the head? Perhaps it was a metaphor. I’m interested in looking at its place in literature, in its original context, to get a better idea of what it meant to the Ancient world.


According to Merriam-Webster


  1. the state of being foolish or unintelligent
  2. marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting
  3. lacking interest or point

At dictionary.com …

stupidity (stupid):

  1. lacking ordinary quickness, keenness of mind, common sense
  2. characterized by or proceeding from mental dullness
  3. tediously dull due to lack of meaning or sense

Google says…

stupidity: behavior that shows a lack of good sense or judgement

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Synonyms — dense, dim, mindless, senseless, unintelligent
Antonyms — bright, intelligent, quick, clever, sharp


In the end of my journey back to the birth of these two words, I feel at the same time more informed and more perplexed.

My conclusion is that ignorance is less like being naive or innocent (meaning the person has no previous experience), and more like not paying attention or being willing to. Stupidity is less about whether you know anything or not, and more about not being capable of learning or accessing any capacity to do so.

The way we use stupid should be “not able to attain knowledge”


…ignorant should be “has a capacity for knowledge, but ignores it.”

It appears to me that the dictionaries themselves (along with most of the modern population) miss the distinction, and mix the true definitions up–officially confusing those who use it.

Just for fun, here is Frank Zappa discussing censorship and copyright and WORDS.

For some further exploration and entertainment, you might look into these…

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