AskDefine | Define dunce

Dictionary Definition

dunce n : these words are used to express a low opinion of someone's intelligence [syn: dunderhead, numskull, blockhead, bonehead, lunkhead, hammerhead, knucklehead, loggerhead, muttonhead, shithead, fuckhead]

User Contributed Dictionary



Eponymous, from John Duns Scotus, who was ironically a well-known Scottish thinker. His followers, however, opposed the philosophers of the Renaissance, and thus "dunce" was first used to describe someone rejecting new knowlege in 1530; later, any stupid person.



  1. One backward in book learning; a child or other person dull or weak in intellect; a dullard; a dolt.


One backward in book learning

Extensive Definition

A dunce cap, also variously known as a dunce hat, dunce's cap, or dunce's hat, is a pointy hat. In popular culture, it is typically made of paper and often marked with a D or the word "dunce", and given to schoolchildren to wear as punishment by public humiliation for naughty behaviour and, as the name implies, stupidity. While this is now a rare practice, it is frequently depicted in popular culture such as animated television series. Such headwear is most prevalent in Western culture but achieved a certain prevalence in modern China in connection with various elements of the communist movement.
A very similar practice on the European continent was a paper headdress known as donkey's ears, as a symbol of 'asinine' stupidity.


The word "dunce" was originally a reference to Bl. John Duns Scotus, a 13th century scholastic theologian, whose books on theology, philosophy, and logic were University textbooks. His followers, termed "Dunsmen" or "Dunses", were later challenged about their system of hair-splitting and distinctions. Their obstinacy over an increasing array of challenges posed first by humanists and then by reformers, led to the term "dunses" to denote fools in general.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition), "dunce cap" didn't enter the English language until after the term "dunce" was so transformed. John Ford's 1624 play The Sun's Darling is the first recorded mention of the related term "dunce table," a table provided for duller or poorer students; "dunce cap" appears first in the 1840 novel The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens.
The Straight Dope notes that Duns Scotus accepted the wearing of conical hats to increase learning, in the belief that it would funnel knowledge to its wearer (and perhaps in emulation of wizards).

External links

dunce in French: Bonnet d'âne
dunce in Swedish: Dumstrut

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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