“Dumb,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, means “lacking the human power of speech.”
This word is used so commonly in the English language it has lost that meaning and has turned into a colloquial term that is spoken freely in the regular conversation.
In ordinary spoken English, a sentence such as “he is dumb” will be interpreted to mean “he is stupid” rather than “he lacks the power of speech.” “Lacking the power of speech” is, however, the original sense of the word, but it has been eclipsed by the meaning “stupid.”
“I can see why it could be offensive,” said sophomore Olivia Gomez. “But it’s used too often that it isn’t something people can change.”
Over time, words have changed their meaning; some examples of this include “gay” or any other now offensive word that does not pertain to the person’s real being.
Words change over time frequently, that is the basis of any language. But some previously normal words can be turned offensive if it is used in a negative way for long enough period of time.
Some modern offensive words were not considered so rude centuries ago. This is due to society’s ever-changing ideas about what’s taboo.
A derogatory term only turns offensive only when it is intended to be offensive. A word becomes offensive when enough people empathize with the ones being offended that it offends them at the same time.
“I don’t really think of [dumb] as an offensive word, but I guess people take different words and names differently,” said freshman Sierra Segal. “Dumb could be offensive to a person, though, if it’s said in a negative way.”
Invasions and immigration mixed English and other languages, and this helped word meanings change. Our modern interpretation of the word could be due to the Germans. German language has a similar word “dumm” that means “stupid,” and over time, as a result of the waves of German immigrants to the United States, it has come to influence the meaning of English “dumb.”
Languages influence other languages all the time, for good and for bad. In this case, an already fairly mean word can be turned into something slightly more derogatory.
“Dumb is used so frequently it isn’t that bad of a word, I think,” said senior Mary Farmar.
The perception of the word dumb varies among people as well. While some people think it offensive, there are others who do not find the word offensive, or at least as offensive as some other words that could mean the same but have grown to become worse than the word “dumb.”
“I guess it really just depends on the person who says it and the person who is in the receiving end whether or not the word is taken badly,” said Segal.
There are worse ways of calling someone stupid than the word “dumb,” but the word and its origin are unique and depending on how a person says the word or how it is taken, it can very easily be taken badly.
While it is not considered a completely taboo word or needs to be censored, “dumb” with the connotation meaning “stupid” is still mean. It does not matter if it could be considered a toned down or nicer variation of other similar words, “dumb” is still offensive to some people.