What does the idiom "slow on the uptake" mean?

The phrase slow on the uptake is often used in English, but what does this idiom mean? When idioms are used in the right situations, they strengthen communication and enrich the language. You can communicate more effectively by learning the meaning of slow on the uptake.

Meaning of "slow on the uptake"


The phrase “slow on the uptake” is an idiom used to describe someone who takes a long time to understand or comprehend something. It is typically used in a negative light or in situations where someone has not acted or responded quickly enough.


The origin of the phrase is unclear, but it is believed to have originated in America in the 17th or 18th century. It may have been derived from the phrase “slow to the draw” which was commonly used to describe someone who takes a long time to act or respond to a situation. It could also be related to the phrase “slow to catch on”, meaning someone is not quick to learn or understand a concept.


The phrase “slow on the uptake” is often used in a casual context and is usually used to describe someone’s sluggishness in responding to a situation or understanding a concept. It is usually used in a negative manner, suggesting that someone is slow-witted or lacks intelligence. The phrase can also be used to describe someone who is simply too distracted to pay attention.

Example Sentences

  • He's always been slow on the uptake, so it should come as no surprise that he hasn't caught on to the new policy yet.
  • I hate to say it, but she's just slow on the uptake. No matter how many times I explain the instructions, she still doesn't get it.
  • Jane is always slow on the uptake, so you'll have to be patient with her.

The meanings of the words in the "slow on the uptake" idiom

Beyond the Literal: Figurative Language in Idioms

Idioms often use figurative language to convey a message that is not meant to be taken literally. For instance, the idiom "bite the bullet" means to endure a painful or difficult situation without complaint, while "hold your horses" means to be patient and wait. Other idioms, like "kick the bucket" or "pop your clogs," use euphemisms to talk about death.


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