Numpty. N-U-M-P-T-Y. Numpty. Gentle word. Very gentle word. It feels to me like 'silly billy' or 'you novice!' It means somebody who displays a lack of knowledge or a lack of awareness. I've often heard it used as an endearment - 'oh, you great numpty', meaning, you know, 'you should have done better than that'. 'Silly billy' is the best gloss for it, I think.
But in some parts of the country and in some people's usage it's a bit stronger and you can hear the difference in the tone of voice. I mean, I've heard somebody say about a driver of a car 'that numpty's talking on his mobile phone while he was driving' and that's a stronger usage, it means more, you know, 'that idiot', 'that prat', 'that numskull' - he's so stupid that even the simplest things are beyond him, that's the kind of nuance there.
So it has a wide range of usage from quite gentle to quite strong. And then it's developed, of course, as time goes by. I've heard the plural of it - numpties, especially for politicians, 'politicians are numpties'. The number of times I've heard that! And also a noun, an abstract noun, numptiness - I don't think that's used very much but I have heard it once or twice - 'the numptiness of our politicians'.
And in 2007, it was Scotland's favourite word. I CAN, the charity, did a survey of the favourite words of different parts of the country and Scotland voted for numpty!
Transcript (pdf - 42k)
Lesson plan - Teacher's notes, student worksheets with answers (pdf - 39k)
Audio - Professor David Crystal on "Numpty" (mp3 - 560k)
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