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

Definition of dunce

: a slow-witted or stupid person

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Synonyms & Antonyms for dunce


airhead, birdbrain, blockhead, bonehead, bubblehead, chowderhead, chucklehead, clodpoll (or clodpole), clot [British], cluck, clunk, cretin, cuddy (or cuddie) [British dialect], deadhead, dim bulb [slang], dimwit, dip, dodo, dolt, donkey, doofus [slang], dope, dork [slang], dullard, dum-dum, dumbbell, dumbhead, dummkopf, dummy, dunderhead, fathead, gander, golem, goof, goon, half-wit, hammerhead, hardhead, idiot, ignoramus, imbecile, jackass, know-nothing, knucklehead, lamebrain, loggerhead [chiefly dialect], loon, lump, lunkhead, meathead, mome [archaic], moron, mug [chiefly British], mutt, natural, nimrod [slang], nincompoop, ninny, ninnyhammer, nit [chiefly British], nitwit, noddy, noodle, numskull (or numbskull), oaf, pinhead, prat [British], ratbag [chiefly Australian], saphead, schlub (also shlub) [slang], schnook [slang], simpleton, stock, stupe, stupid, thickhead, turkey, woodenhead, yahoo, yo-yo


brain, genius

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Did You Know?

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

There are also sisters Ursula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), a tortured artist-slash-dental-assistant, and Tati (Ana Fabrega), the group’s unofficial test dummy and lovable dunce. Jason Parham, WIRED, "The Oddball Delights of Los Espookys," 14 June 2019 Or, having sat mutely on its metaphorical dunce chair at the back of the class, can The Cosby Show ever be rerun on network television once its serial-rapist star has also served his time? Lionel Shriver, Harper's magazine, "Cruel and Unusual Punishment," 10 Feb. 2019 In flashbacks, William is a naive dunce and a smarmy creep. Scott Meslow, GQ, "Westworld Season 2 Episode 6 Recap: Off the Rails," 28 May 2018 And there is the comedy of dunces involving who knew what about Rob Porter, who was denied a security clearance by the FBI for reasons that probably became clear this week. Charles P. Pierce, Esquire, "Remember When Mishandling Classified Info Was the Worst Thing Possible in 2016?," 9 Feb. 2018 So, yes, let Spencer enjoy his First Amendment right to preach hate to his legion of dunces -- free and out in the open. Byron Mccauley, Cincinnati.com, "Byron McCauley: Why it's important to hear white nationalist Richard Spencer and remember the past," 17 Oct. 2017 But the game within the game also pivoted on a decision gone awry by coach Andy Reid, one that reiterates the remarkably thin and blurry line between success and defeat and perceived genius and dunce in the NFL. Vahe Gregorian, kansascity, "Why Andy Reid went for it, a key decision that backfired on the Chiefs," 15 Oct. 2017 But although the media often portrayed the Gipper as an amiable dunce, the discovery of the papers that were published in the book Reagan, In His Own Hand forced historians to revise their views of the 40th president. Charles J. Sykes, Time, "Charles J. Sykes: Where the Right Went Wrong," 5 Oct. 2017 For most of this decade, the genre’s male stars have been strutters: egocentric, bumblingly flirtatious, a little dunce-y. Jon Caramanica, New York Times, "In Country Music, Nice Guys Finish First (for Now)," 21 Sep. 2017

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.

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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


Duncan Phyfe



dunce cap



Statistics for dunce

Last Updated

26 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for dunce

The first known use of dunce was in 1567

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More Definitions for dunce



English Language Learners Definition of dunce

old-fashioned : someone who is stupid or slow at learning things


\ ˈdəns How to pronounce dunce (audio) \

Kids Definition of dunce

: a stupid person

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More from Merriam-Webster on dunce

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with dunce

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for dunce

Spanish Central: Translation of dunce

Nglish: Translation of dunce for Spanish Speakers

Comments on dunce

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characterized by aphorism

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