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 little workrooms. Others might even make use of this extra space for their animals. But a typical thing to see hanging on the walls or laying on top of shelves in most sheds are tools. Both sharp and blunt.
So how long have people been using this metaphor that compares people to blunt shed tools? While the origin of the saying is unclear, it looks like it 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 suggests that it probably originated sometime during the late 20th century.
Anyways, for this and the similar sounding idiom, the words “sharp” and “bright” can refer to one who is intelligent (e.g., that student is sharp; she’s a bright one.) It makes me wonder if the meaning of these two words had some sort of role in the forming of these phrases.
- 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 origins for most common idioms cannot be said with a certainty. What’s provided are theories that may be plausible to how a phrase originated, but not necessarily so.
In addition, quotes that contain a phrase may be taken from old newspapers, poems, or books that were written centuries ago, but this by no means shows they originated from these. In all likelihood, if an expression is being used in a newspaper, it’s probably already well known, and thus, from an older period of time.