Call me dumb but I’ve never understood the tagline that recurs throughout the movie Forrest Gump. “Are you stupid?” more than one character asks Forrest, who does indeed show signs that he is not the sharpest hacksaw in the woodshop. Forrest responds the same way every time: “Stupid is as stupid does.”
In the movie, Forrest picks up this phrase—I hesitate to call it an idea—from his mother, and the interlocutors to whom he utters it nod sagely, impressed. But what does it mean? Why is stupid, an adjective, put to work as a noun and then forced into a role as the subject of the sentence? Stupid is … what? What is stupid? I’ve heard various translations of the phrase, which aren’t much help: An intelligent person can be considered stupid if he does stupid things. Or: Just because you look stupid doesn’t mean you are stupid; or, again, being stupid and acting stupid are essentially the same activity. Another possibility: De facto stupidity is definitive in ways that stupidity in se is not. I can’t hear Forrest Gump putting it like that, however.