What Does Slow on the Uptake Mean?

Slow on the Uptake Meaning

Definition: Slow to understand something.

A synonymous expression is slow on the draw. An expression with the opposite meaning is quick on the uptake and quick on the draw.

Origin of Slow on the Uptake

This expression is a euphemistic way to call someone dull, or in other words, not very smart.

Uptake has meant to understand since the early 1800s. It comes from the verb take up, formerly uptake. The verb uptake is now obsolete, but it existed before the noun form, since it originated in the 1300s.

Imagine that you are trying to learn something from a book. You take the information from the pages up into your brain. This is the allusion behind the idiom.

The synonymous idiom slow on the draw has a different origin. This version relates to cowboys drawing their pistols in a gunfight.

Examples of Slow on the Uptake

definition of slow on uptakeIn the example below, two siblings are discussing a problem.

Jordan: Can I ask your opinion on the behalf of my friend?

James: Sure. What is it?

Jordan: Well, I am having a problem—I mean, my friend is having some problems. She found out that her brother’s girlfriend is cheating on him. She’s not sure if she should tell her brother or not.

James: Oh man. Are you telling me that my girlfriend is cheating on me?

Jordan: Whoops! How could you tell that I was talking about myself and not my friend?

James: I’m not that slow on the uptake. It was pretty obvious what you were doing.

quick on the uptake definitionIn the second dialogue, two coworkers are discussing some workplace drama.

Job: The boss just fired Dean.

Melissa: Really?

Job: Yeah. The security team disabled his electronic key to the building, and the IT department disabled his account. However, he still didn’t realize he was going to be fired. He’s a little slow on the uptake. The HR department had to say it a few times before he figured it out.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about a man who tries to do business at a funeral.

  • The father and son soon had bigger problems — at the end of January, media reports surfaced saying that Dean Skelos was being investigated by the feds. AbTech’s lobbying firm, Capitol Group, dropped the storm water purification company as a client almost immediately. Adam was kept in the dark about the move, and was slow on the uptake. –New York Daily News

The second excerpt is from an article about going to the gym.

  • “Slow on the uptake, with a troubling inability to focus.” That’s what my teachers used to always say. Bosses too. But I have learned one thing along the way: A sweaty workout — five or six days a week — makes you more robust, more confident, and less of a sniveling little lout. –LA Times


The phrase slow on the uptake means sluggish to comprehend.