There are some great idioms to comment on someone’s intelligence that might be worth looking into. This article will explore some of the best synonyms you can use for “not the sharpest tool in the shed.” There are plenty of similar sayings, including the following:
- Not the brightest light in the harbour
- The light’s on, but no one’s home
- A few screws short of a hardware store
- A few cards short of a deck
- A few fries short of a Happy Meal
- About as sharp as a marble
- Smart as a bag of rocks
- The elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor
- A few keys short of a keyboard
- A room temperature IQ
- Depriving some village of its idiot
- All foam, no beer
Sayings similar to “not the sharpest tool in the shed” are “not the brightest light in the harbour,” “the light’s on but no one’s home,” and “a few screws short of a hardware store.” These are great idioms showing that someone is not the brightest.
1. Not the Brightest Light in the Harbour
“Not the brightest light in the harbour” works well as an alternative. It shows that someone is still present in the “harbour,” but they cannot shine nearly as brightly as those around them.
This implies that someone is the least intelligent person amongst their family or friends. It shows they try their best, but they cannot keep up with the intellect of others.
- He’s not the brightest light in the harbour. He tries his best, but he just can’t keep up.
- You’re not the brightest light in the harbour, but I think people find that endearing. It shows you have courage.
2. The Light’s on, but No One’s Home
“The light’s on, but no one’s home” is a classic synonym you can use to insult someone’s intelligence. It shows that you can see someone trying to think through an answer but struggling to come to a conclusion.
The “light” refers to someone thinking (or attempting to think). The “home” refers to the solution. It shows that someone can’t think intelligently enough to keep up with you.
- The light’s on, but no one’s home when I talk to her. I can’t figure out what she’s trying to say to me. I hate it.
- Oh, the light is on, but no one’s home. I’m always surprised at the things she comes out with. It’s hilarious.
3. A Few Screws Short of a Hardware Store
“A few screws short of a hardware store” shows that someone doesn’t have all the brainpower needed to solve something. “A few… short of” is a common phrasal formation when referring to someone’s intelligence (or lack thereof).
- You’re a few screws short of a hardware store, Sarah. I’m not trying to be cruel, but you definitely can’t keep up.
- She’s a few screws short of a hardware store. I feel bad talking about things like this because she doesn’t get them.
4. A Few Cards Short of a Deck
“A few cards short of a deck” is another great “a few… short of” phrase. You can use it to show that someone isn’t a completed set, meaning they aren’t as smart as a “completed” person might be.
In this instance, the “deck” refers to someone smart. Having a “few cards short” means you aren’t as bright as those around you.
- I know I’m a few cards short of a deck, but I still do my best. Please, give me some credit for what I do.
- You’re a few cards short of a deck sometimes. It’s the little comments you make that I don’t get with you.
5. A Few Fries Short of a Happy Meal
“A few fries short of a Happy Meal” is a fairly new idiom compared to the others. It comes from the Happy Meal sold at McDonald’s, a cheaper meal marketed to children.
If your Happy Meal doesn’t come with enough fries, it’s not complete. The same applies to someone’s intelligence. If they’re missing a few metaphorical “fries,” they can’t think the same way as others.
- Sam is a few fries short of a Happy Meal. Good luck getting him to understand this riddle without your help.
- You’re a few fries short of a Happy Meal, but we’ll work through this together. I can help you figure it out.
6. About as Sharp as a Marble
“About as sharp as marble” uses contradiction to comment on someone’s low intelligence. “Sharp” is used to refer to someone being smart (or, in this case, not so smart).
Marbles are smooth, round glass balls. They are not designed to be sharp. If you use this to describe someone, it implies they are as smooth as a marble, meaning they have no wits or intelligence about them.
- She’s about as sharp as a marble when solving things like this. She never fully grasps the ideas while they’re available.
- I know I’m about as sharp as a marble, but I would still like to keep up with the rest of you guys. Let me in!
7. Smart as a Bag of Rocks
“Smart as a bag of rocks” is a very common idiom to insult someone’s intelligence. It means that someone is incapable of deeper thought than what rocks can achieve. Considering rocks can’t think for themselves, this can be quite insulting.
It’s a great synonym when you want to highlight that someone lacks imagination or critical thinking. It shows they aren’t able to keep up with the general population.
- He’s as smart as a bag of rocks. He can never seem to fathom the ideas we put forward. I don’t think he’s going to do well here.
- They’re both as smart as a bag of rocks. Have you ever tried to ask them a deep question? They get lost.
8. The Elevator Doesn’t Go All the Way to the Top Floor
This alternative is great to use in many situations. It shows that someone is an “elevator” that doesn’t go all the way to the top floor (as all elevators are designed to do).
It implies that someone cannot complete a full job because they don’t have the brains for it.
- The elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor with Jack. I don’t think he’ll get what you’re talking about.
- I know the elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor with me. I’m really sorry. I’m doing what I can.
9. A Few Keys Short of a Keyboard
“A few keys short of a keyboard” is a great idiom that follows a similar idea to the other “a few… short of” phrases. This time, you can refer to a computer keyboard having fewer keys than it’s supposed to, meaning it can’t type words like most other keyboards.
This is great to show that someone isn’t capable of being as eloquent as others. They may struggle to find the right words, while everyone else has no trouble articulating and getting words out.
- I’m a few keys short of a keyboard, but I still put in the work. With time, I’m certain I can fix my biggest issues.
- You’re a few keys short of a keyboard sometimes. I don’t mean to be cruel, but you must work on your awareness.
10. A Room Temperature IQ
“A room temperature IQ” is a great insult when someone isn’t as smart as others. It implies that someone is much slower than the average person as their IQ is only that of room temperature (both Celsius and Fahrenheit work, but Celsius is much more insulting).
Think about it like this:
The average IQ is between 85 and 115. 100 is the standard number used for an IQ test, meaning that’s the number most people should be to be “smart.”
Room temperature is between 20-22 �C or 68-72 �F. Either way, both numbers are below the average IQ, implying someone is stupid. If they have a “Celsius room temperature IQ,” it implies they’re barely able to function.
- Joey has a room temperature IQ. I’m amazed that he even made it this far in life. He never knows what to do.
- Your room temperature IQ is your biggest limiter here. You really should look into getting some help.
11. Depriving Some Village of Its Idiot
“Depriving some village of its idiot” is a very harsh insult used to show someone isn’t smart and can’t keep up with you. It refers to someone as a “village idiot,” meaning they are the stupidest people around.
“Depriving” is used here to show that you aren’t currently in a village. It implies the person you’re speaking with has been taken away from their “village” as the local village idiot.
- You’re depriving some village of its idiot with these comments! How could you possibly think like that?
- I think she’s depriving some village of its idiot. Have you spoken to her lately? She’s a fool!
12. All Foam, No Beer
“All foam, no beer” is a funny idiom showing that someone has no taste or intelligence behind them. It likens their intellect to a beer poured with nothing but foam (meaning it has no flavour).
- She’s all foam, no beer. I’m not sure I can keep talking to her. She never knows what I’m trying to say.
- I’m all foam, no beer sometimes. I never seem to keep up with the people around me.
What Does “Not the Sharpest Tool in the Shed” Mean?
“Not the sharpest tool in the shed” is a metaphor that shows someone isn’t very smart. It implies they are not the brightest, and most people use it as a minor insult to mock someone’s intelligence.
“Not the sharpest tool in the shed” is a more delicate way of saying “stupid.”
These two examples mean the same thing:
- He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I still love him.
- He’s stupid, but I still love him.
“Sharpest tool in the shed” is a much less cruel way of saying someone is stupid. If you want to spare feelings or come across more pleasantly, maybe stick to this idiom or one of the others we suggested.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.