A cunning linguist goes into a bar…

From the Desk of Kitty Winn

Dear Kitty Winn,

I like to be most precise when insulting my co-workers, and I was wondering what is the salient difference between “incompetent” and “inept?”

thanks a mill,

-Wordy Winnifred

Dear Winnifred,

what kind of name is that? Are you a Cabbage Patch Kid? And what does Kitty look like, the g.d. OED?

Kitty will humor your presumptious request simply because Kitty shares your fondness for insults. So here we go, whoop whoop whee…


1. Not qualified in legal terms

2. Inadequate for or unsuited to a particular purpose or application.

3. Devoid of those qualities requisite for effective conduct or action.


1. Not apt or fitting; inappropriate.

2. a. Displaying a lack of judgment, sense, or reason; foolish: an inept remark.

b. Bungling or clumsy; incompetent: inept handling of the account.

Thanks, Dictionary.com!

Some would argue that they are but synonyms, but Kitty feels that incompetence is a fundamental problem for which there is likely not to be a cure. Ineptitude strikes Kitty as just plain not trying hard enough. Perhaps you should associate a character from popular culture with the object of your derision and see what occurs? George W. Bush? Clearly in the incompetence camp. Bill Clinton? Merely inept.

At any rate, why split hairs? Why not go for such tried and true take-downs as oaf, dolt, or boob? Then there’s pinhead, dumbbell, ding dong, simpleton, lummox, clod, or even stumblebum. Be creative! Do they also have a personal hygiene problem you could single out? Perhaps an unfortunate facial feature? Think outside the box, as if it were 1999! You could go from “dummy head” to “bungling filthy slattern!” if you just dig a little deeper.

correctly yours,


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