It might help to know what to call someone who takes everything literally. It can be debilitating for them (and yourself if you have to have a conversation with them). This article will explore the best words for taking things too literally. Some of the best include:
- Take at face value
- Slow on the uptake
The best words for someone who takes things too literally are “literalist,” “take at face value,” and “pedant.” These are the most effective choices from the list as they show that someone cannot read into deeper meanings. They can only see things as said or written.
“Literalist” is great when someone takes things too literally when talking with them. It shows that they read things and accept them as written rather than exploring any deeper meanings.
While this is sometimes useful, it also shows that someone is incapable of independent thought or deeper thinking. This can be tricky when teaching them idioms or phrases that rely on them reading between the lines.
- He’s a literalist, so he takes everything you say seriously. I would clarify that you don’t mean it if you don’t want him to do the job.
- I think you’re a bit of a literalist. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s hard to talk to you sometimes.
2. Take at Face Value
“Take at face value” is a phrase used to show that someone will take something literally because it’s the most basic form of what they’ve ready. “Face value” shows that they have not gone deeper than the “face” of whatever was said.
It means they are forced to take things literally because they simply cannot think in a deeper sense.
- Stop taking everything at face value. For once, understand that I’m being sarcastic. It doesn’t always have to make sense, okay?
- I take things at face value more often than I probably should. I feel really bad about it, but that’s all I can understand from most people.
“Pedant” is a great alternative in this context. It shows that someone is interested in following small details, even when they’re unimportant. “Pedant” relates to being “Pedantic,” showing that someone gets stuck following formal rules, even at the worst times.
This means they’ll struggle to find different ways to take sentences other than literally because they’re dead-set on the small details from the sentence.
The definition of “pedant,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “a person who is too interested in formal rules and small details that are not important.”
- You’re such a pedant! Why don’t you go out there and try to understand what sarcasm means? I think that might help you with social cues.
- You’re a pedant, and I don’t know how to help you. You take everything so literally and follow the rules to a T. You’re a lost cause.
“Clod” is a great synonym to use for a specific purpose. You should use it when someone takes things too literally because they are not smart enough to read between the lines or understand a deeper meaning.
This is a derogatory term. You may find that some people simply take things literally because they can’t figure out another explanation. That’s why words like “clod” that insult someone’s intelligence are good synonyms here.
The definition of “clod,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “a stupid person.”
- He’s a bit of a clod. You can’t blame him for taking things too literally. I don’t think he realizes he’s doing it. He just struggles with stuff like this.
- You’re a clod! You never understand a word of what I’m saying, do you? It’s like you can’t keep up, so you take things literally.
“Prosaic” means someone has no imagination or creativity, implying they cannot think for themselves and have to take things literally. It’s great to use this as another way of showing that someone takes things too literally.
It lets someone know that they aren’t capable of thinking on a deeper level.
The definition of “prosaic,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “without interest, imagination, and excitement.”
- As a prosaic, she can’t see the deeper meanings of certain issues. That means she often misses the point. I don’t know how to talk to her.
- I think you’re prosaic, but we can definitely work on that. I’m willing to help you figure out how to change your ways!
“Literal” is similar to using “literalist.” It shows that someone has a “literal” personality, meaning they can only see things as written and take them in that way. They can never figure out the “figurative” side of things.
This term works well but is not as specific as “literalist.” Most dictionaries define “literal” as words taken in the most basic sense rather than relating it to someone’s personality.
- You’re being too literal. Maybe you should try reading between the lines to help you understand a better way to go about these issues.
- She’s very literal. She means everything she says and often believes we do too. It’s hard to joke around her.
7. Slow on the Uptake
“Slow on the uptake” is another way of showing that someone isn’t able to think outside the box. It shows someone has to take things literally because they are too “slow” to realize that there’s another meaning or reason for saying something.
It is insulting to use this against someone. However, it might be appropriate if they always manage to take the things you say literally.
- Darren is too slow on the uptake for my liking. It’s really hard to talk him down when he gets something in his head as well.
- I think you’re slow on the uptake. That’s the only reason you take things literally. It’s got nothing to do with your thought process.
“Obtuse” is yet another insult relating to someone’s intelligence. You should use “obtuse” to refer to someone who is too stupid to understand something in a different sense from how you described it.
“Obtuse” people might also be unwilling to understand rather than too stupid to do so. Some people make an active choice to avoid seeing things figuratively. They will only do things literally because they think it works best for them.
The definition of “obtuse,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “stupid and slow to understand, or unwilling to try to understand.”
- Stop being obtuse and start understanding what I’m saying! It’s not that hard to figure these things out. You don’t have to be so literal.
- I’m too obtuse to figure out most of the things they say to me. Sarcasm is completely lost on me most of the time. I hate it.
“Autistic” refers to someone suffering from the mental condition “autism.” As such, you should not use this word as a descriptor for somebody, as it’s likely to cause them offence.
However, it is still appropriate to use here because autistic people often struggle to understand deeper meanings. They take things literally regardless of the context, and they are never able to move away from that idea.
You should only use this idea to describe someone who has autism that you know. Please do not use it as a derogatory term against anyone.
The definition of “autistic,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “affected by or relating to the condition of autism, which affects the development of social and communication skills and can affect behaviour.”
- Adam is autistic. He has a tricky time with social situations because his mind doesn’t work the same way as others.
- I think you’re autistic, and I would like to get you checked over. That would help us figure out what our next steps should be.
“Slow” means someone is too dim-witted to understand the meaning behind something. This means they will be forced to take something literally.
The definition of “slow,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “A person who is slow does not understand or learn things quickly.”
- You’re so slow! Seriously. Did you even go to school? It feels like you can’t keep up with me, so you have to take things literally.
- You’re taking this too literally because you’re too slow to find any other way to do it. I don’t know how to correct that.
What Does It Mean to Take Things Too Literally?
When someone takes things too literally, they read things as written and expect that to be what needs to happen. It’s most obvious to notice this when using an idiom or metaphor to describe something else.
For example, you might say:
- You’re like an old man at a bingo retreat.
This uses a simile (“like an old man”) to describe someone’s current demeanour. However, if the person you’re speaking to takes the phrase too literally, they might reply by saying:
- I’m not an old man, and I don’t like bingo.
Obviously, this wasn’t the intention behind your original comment. It shows that the meaning went over their heads because they can only take things at face value.
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.