Someone who is thought to be unintelligent; stupid.
Note: A similar expression with the same meaning is “(he/she’s) not the brightest bulb in the box.”
Example: Ryan is not the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to cars. He knows next to nothing about them.
The Origin Of ‘Not The Sharpest Tool In The Shed’
Sheds are common structures found in the backyards of many homes. They are used mainly for storage purposes, though some people use them as a workplace. People often store their tools in sheds, so it’s normal to see both sharp and blunt tools either hanging up on walls within a shed or laying on top of shelves.
So… how long have people been using this saying? Not long; it looks like this metaphor originated fairly recently. Why do I say that? Because the earliest I could find it in print is from the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph newspaper, July 1994. There’s a part from it that reads:
“Critics said that Cliburn was an intuitive artist, and that once his intuition was exhausted, he had little else to say about a piece — which was a fancy way of saying that Cliburn wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.”
I’m unable to find the term from an earlier date than the quote above. To me, this would suggest that it probably originated sometime during the late 20th century.
Tip: If you want to find more expressions like this one, we have a list of popular phrases that start with the letter “N”. Check it out!
- When it comes to cooking, Rob is not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. That’s why he keeps his meals simple most of the time. At least they still taste good.
- My orange cat isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but that’s okay, he’s still adorable!
Note: The origin of many common idioms cannot be said with a certainty. So what will be provided are theories that may be plausible to how a phrase originated.
In addition, the quotes that contain a phrase may be taken from old newspapers, poems, or books that were written centuries ago. However, do not take it to mean that the saying originated from these sources. The quotes are there to give you an indication of how old the phrase is.