\ ˈdən(t)s How to pronounce dunce (audio) \

Definition of dunce

: a slow-witted or stupid person

Synonyms & Antonyms for dunce



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The irony of dunce lies in the fact that this synonym of dullard is derived from the name of one of the most brilliant thinkers of the Middle Ages, John Duns Scotus. So ingenious were the theological and metaphysical speculations of this thinker that he was given the name “the Subtle Doctor.” However, in the 16th century, his followers became a conservative element in English universities, and they tended to resist the new learning of humanism. As result, dunsman and the shortened form duns (later respelled as we have it today), became terms of scorn, meaning first “sophist” or “pedant” and gradually taking on the modern sense “slow-witted person.”

Examples of dunce in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Ermengarde, the school dunce, Lottie, the school crybaby, and Becky, the scullery maid, quickly find a defender, surrogate mother, and friend in Sara. Sarah Schutte, National Review, 13 Mar. 2022 In my view, the biggest mistake scientists make is to claim that this is all somehow simple and therefore to imply that anyone who doesn't get it is a dunce. Naomi Oreskes, Scientific American, 21 June 2021 Even mild-mannered GOP politicos and writers call Uncle Joe a phony, a liar, a dunce, a socialist: Our turn. Keith C. Burris, Star Tribune, 14 Apr. 2021 Pena insists that his path to success, power, and money started in grammar school, when he was forced to wear a dunce hat. Los Angeles Times, 19 Apr. 2021 The nerd next door who's a whiz in geometry and a dunce in relationships. Neal Justin, Star Tribune, 25 Mar. 2021 The professors wore tall paper dunce caps and looked as shocked as the spectators, who watched from the university’s lawn, some with tears in their eyes. Marty Judge Community Voices Contributor, San Diego Union-Tribune, 20 Mar. 2021 What started as casual brutality—class enemies forced to wear ridiculous dunce caps or stand in stress positions—degenerated into outright sadism. Barbara Demick, The Atlantic, 18 Dec. 2020 Despite his very real affection for his mother-in-law, Lee found his father-in-law an amiable but annoying dunce. Allen C. Guelzo, National Review, 17 Sep. 2020 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'dunce.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of dunce

1567, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for dunce

John Duns Scotus, whose once accepted writings were ridiculed in the 16th century

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Dictionary Entries Near dunce



dunce cap

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Statistics for dunce

Last Updated

22 Mar 2022

Cite this Entry

“Dunce.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dunce. Accessed 19 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for dunce


\ ˈdəns How to pronounce dunce (audio) \

Kids Definition of dunce

: a stupid person

More from Merriam-Webster on dunce

Nglish: Translation of dunce for Spanish Speakers


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