gorm·​less ˈgȯrm-ləs How to pronounce gormless (audio)
chiefly British
: lacking intelligence : stupid
gormlessness noun chiefly British

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Gormless began life as the English dialect word gaumless, which was altered to the modern spelling when it expanded into wider use in the late 19th century. The origins of gaumless are easy to understand; the word derives from a combination of the dialect noun gaum, meaning "attention" or "understanding," and the suffix -less. This gaum has a related verb, also limited to dialect use, meaning "to pay attention to" and "to understand." Perhaps surprisingly, the four-letter gaum has multiple additional dialectal uses that are etymologically unrelated to these. Also noun-and-verb pairs, gaum means "a sticky or greasy mess" and "to smudge or smear especially with something sticky or greasy," as well as "a stupid doltish person" and "to behave in a stupid or awkward manner." Use of all of these pales in comparison to that of gormless, however, which is most frequently seen in British English.

Example Sentences

a comedy show that invariably portrays the British aristocracy as a bunch of gormless twits
Recent Examples on the Web Much of the movie unfolds inside the suburban Connecticut mansion where Lily lives with her gormless mother (Francie Swift) and her loathsome stepdad. Justin Chang, latimes.com, 8 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'gormless.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


alteration of English dialect gaumless, from gaum attention, understanding (from Middle English gome, from Old Norse gaum, gaumr) + -less

First Known Use

1883, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of gormless was in 1883


Dictionary Entries Near gormless

Cite this Entry

“Gormless.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gormless. Accessed 27 Jan. 2023.

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