I know of many words to insult people and call them stupid, but a majority of them are incredibly offensive. There are more polite phrases, such as 真笨, which I've seen used within families (as a plain 真笨啊!), but nothing which seems the right level of formality for the context in question.

In English, the nearest equivalent of what I'm looking for would be along the lines of "fool", but not quite as strong as "imbecile". Something you can use in a formal situation, but something that won't incredibly offend the listener; more a "silly you" with a higher register of formality.

I'm not sure which words match this closely, if any exist. What words are closest to this meaning?

  • Just say the opposite, e.g. "你真神"
    – Henry HO
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 15:06
  • Be careful, you should not use 笨蛋, this is an insulting term, it has nothing to do with politeness at all, in fact, it can be translated in some contexts as 'jerk'. The answer you have accepted is unreliable. Check my answer.
    – imrek
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 20:35
  • Thanks for the heads-up! I should have run an iciba cross-reference myself..
    – sqrtbottle
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 21:53
  • When I saw this question, I'd like to say...it's always impossible to insult somebody's intelligence with politeness in ANY language! Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 1:37

9 Answers 9


I don't know if there is a way to politely insult someone's intellect, that almost seems like an oxymoron to me.

糊涂 (silly) is the only expression I can think of that doesn't stigmatize the addressee too much. But I would under no circumstance apply it to my boss or my in-laws or a teacher or anyone with whom one has to be respectful.

E.g. 你这么糊涂! How silly of you! Also: 糊涂虫

傻 is still somewhere between 'silly' and 'fool'. A mother could reply to the naive questions of her child with 傻孩子! (Silly kid!). 别犯傻! (Don't be silly) is another way to use it.

傻瓜 would a bit stronger, but between peers could be still acceptable, but I would only use it if it is clear that I am not really meaning it.

胡说! can used if you think someones says something stupid.

By contrast 混蛋 and 笨蛋 are more verbal and far more insulting. You can see and hear movie protagonists spitting and yelling this at each other.

UPDATE: 二货 is another non-offensive way to call someone silly, e.g. 二货朋友 a silly friend.

  • After an iciba reference, 糊涂 seems to be more alike to calling somebody confused. Does this match with the impression you're talking about regarding lack of stigmatizing (relatively)? Also, 傻 is used in a number of compounds, of which they vary in severity from "foolish / silly" to some of the more insulting of curse words. Roughly where does 傻 on its own fall in terms of this spectrum? "别犯傻!" gives a good impression, but are there any other examples you can think of? Just trying to get an impression of its connotations
    – sqrtbottle
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 21:52
  • 1
    I‘ve tried to organize the translations according to their level of supposed 'offensiveness'. Less offensive terms come first in my answer. 糊涂 can be translated with confused/silly/muddled and probably denotes some temporary condition rather than a permanent lack of mental brightness. 傻 can also be used as 别傻了!(Don't be foolish!) or 我真傻!(How stupid of me!/What a fool I am!), but the latter is not a very harsh self critique, rather the acknowledgment of an obvious mistake. E.g. 我真傻,把雨伞丢在火车上了。(How stupid, I left the umbrella on the train.) But it can also be used with a more offensive tone.
    – imrek
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 12:50
  • @Sqrtbottle What you definitely don't want to use is 傻逼 which is highly offensive, even if 傻 in itself is less insulting.
    – imrek
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 12:56
  • 傻逼 was actually the one I had in mind while writing the post. It's also a lot more impolite with a different 2nd character, and I've also seen it written as 傻B, or even just SB (this one also to reduce keystrokes) online. Thanks for the comprehensive answer(s)
    – sqrtbottle
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 8:33

I use

You are naively lovely

(with a smile) personally. Conventional arms so people won't get angry.


You need to put money on your IQ.

Your IQ balance is apparently insufficient.


I have to say that this depends on the situation the words appear.

If a mother said "你真笨" to her own child, or call her child "小笨孩"/"小笨蛋", with a nice smile on her face, then it is not insulting. But if you see a boss said "你真笨" to an employee with a anger face, then in this situation it is a kind of insulting.

Almost all Chinese words that seems insulting can be non-insulting in some situations, and almost all Chinese words that seems good can be insulting in some other situations.

Like the first comment in your question, Henry HO said that you can say "你真神". "神" usually means god, or someone that is really good at something. But if you say "你真神" when you want to insult somebody's intelligence, then the meaning changed into the opposite. It is similar to say "You are really GOOD at doing this" when you want to say somebody is not good at doing this at all.

So I think it is really hard to say which word is similar to "fool" or "imbecile".

  • Well put @Yuting! It is the way "how" you say something that makes a big difference. My ex-girlfriend sometimes called me 笨蛋 in times when I was a bit forgettable for instance, pretty sure she didn't intend to insult me.
    – flaudre
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 4:01
  • 3
    Of course she didn't intend to insult you :) If the relationship is quite close, "笨蛋" tends to be a way to show your close relationship. Sometimes, wife will call her husband "杀千刀的", which seems quite terrible since there are "杀", which means kill, and also "刀", which means knife in phrase. The literal meaning of “杀千刀的” means "the guy who should be killed by thousand knives" or similar. This sounds terrible right? But it is just a way to show close relationship. Tends to be like sweetie or honey in English, but in a really "terrible" way.
    – Yuting
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 6:55

你的脑袋是什么做的?or 脑袋进水啦? There's also a rhyme in Cantonese 头大无脑,脑大长草 haha


You intend to insult someone. So how about

Do you bring your head with you only to look taller?

That works for me every time.


Other than 天真, 单纯 is another word to describe people are innocent, and depends on the context it may imply the person is too naive that it actually seems silly.

(你)真令人捉急呀! is also a way to say to someone silly(because of his clumsiness or slow) that make you frustrated.


As the OP has already accepted a great answer, the additions here are only for fun.

豆腐腦 means a person's brain function (intellectually) is weak.


Another comment by inference to an idiom that can be considered a mockery, although the idiom is used as a comforter on most occasions.

你好有(傻)福啊! - 諷刺語源自傻人有傻福. 傻 needs not to be spelled out.


笨蛋 and 傻子 both mean fool or idiot and may be put in this category. Depending on "how" you say it, it can be non-insulting but clearly expressing the "sillyness" of the counterpart.

  • 1
    笨蛋 can be (very) insulting.
    – imrek
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 20:32
  • @DrunkenMaster thank you for clarifying and posting a more detailed answer. It is very useful!
    – flaudre
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 0:54

你脑袋长在屁股 means

Your brain is located at your butt

树多必有枯枝,人多必有白痴 means

If there are lot of trees, there must be a deadwood; If there are a lot people, there must be an idiot.

  • 2
    The question is "Ways to politely insult ...". Both ways you provide are rude.
    – Yuting
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 6:06

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