Definition for DUNCE

DUNCE, n. [duns; G. duns. Qu. Pers. دَندْ‎‎, a stupid man.]

A person of weak intellects; a dullard; a dolt; a thickskull. I never knew this town without dunces of figure. – Swift. [“Dunce is said by Johnson to be a word of unknown etymology. Stanihurst explains it. The term Duns from Scotus, 'so famous for his subtill quiddities,' he says, 'is so trivial and common in all schools, that whose surpasseth others either in cavilling sophistrie, or subtill philosophie, is forthwith nicknamed a Duns.' This, he tells us in the margin, is the reason 'why schoolmen are called Dunses.' (Description of Ireland, p. 2.) The word easily passed into a term of scorn, just as a blockhead is called Solomon; a bully, Hector; and as Moses is the vulgar name of contempt for a Jew.” – Dr. Southey's Omniana, vol. i. p. 5. E.H.B.] I have little confidence in this explanation. – N.W.

Return to page 209 of the letter “D”.