\ 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



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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 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 For some reason, a dunce in the editing room added an explanatory whirring noise on the soundtrack. Darren Franich, EW.com, 14 Sep. 2020 Will our entire cadre of older faculty members morph from larger-than-life sages into teeny little pariahs wearing dunce caps? Anne Fadiman, Wired, 17 June 2020

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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Statistics for dunce

Last Updated

9 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Dunce.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dunce. Accessed 19 Jun. 2021.

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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

More from Merriam-Webster on dunce

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Nglish: Translation of dunce for Spanish Speakers


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