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[duhns] /dʌns/
a dull-witted, stupid, or ignorant person; dolt.
Origin of dunce
1520-30; after John Duns Scotus, whose writings were attacked by the humanists as foolish
Related forms
duncical, duncish, adjective
duncishly, adverb
dullard, numbskull, blockhead, ignoramus, simpleton, nincompoop, ninny. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for dunce
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Another error, obvious to any dunce, was concealed from Milton by his own intellectual greatness.

    Life of John Milton Richard Garnett
  • Fowell learnt very little at school, and was regarded as a dunce and an idler.

    Self-Help Samuel Smiles
  • Hackslaver, to stammer in ones speech, like a dunce at his lesson.

    The Slang Dictionary John Camden Hotten
  • He was long described by his Spartan mother, who thought him a dunce, as only ‘food for powder.’

    Self-Help Samuel Smiles
  • dunce, wittily or willfully derived from Duns, surnamed "Scotus."

British Dictionary definitions for dunce


a person who is stupid or slow to learn
Derived Forms
duncelike, adjective
Word Origin
C16: from Dunses or Dunsmen, term of ridicule applied to the followers of John Duns Scotus, especially by 16th-century humanists
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for dunce

"dullard," 1570s, from earlier Duns disciple "follower of John Duns Scotus" (c.1265-1308), Scottish scholar of philosophy and theology supposed to have been born at Duns in Berwickshire. By 16c., humanist reaction against medieval theology singled him out as the type of the hairsplitting scholastic. It became a general term of reproach applied to more conservative philosophical opponents by 1520s, later extended to any dull-witted student.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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