Definition of dunce in US English:



  • A person who is slow at learning; a stupid person.

    ‘he was baffled by arithmetic and they called him a dunce at school’
    • ‘Now, before we question her judgment, she may well have been surrounded by dunces her entire life.’
    • ‘Plus, I'm a total dunce - I didn't even realise that ‘surprise party’ noise was a cock-up.’
    • ‘Books assigned in school (with a few puzzling exceptions) were the most contemptible of all, since those dunces, our teachers, had heard of them.’
    • ‘‘I was branded a dunce, without question,’ he says.’
    • ‘And I think I can say, with all fairness, that the management thinks I'm a dunce.’
    • ‘For every liberal dunce, there is a conservative dunce.’
    • ‘The advertiser also takes us to be such dunces in whose heads he has to ram his message again and again.’
    • ‘Or, put another way, the elections were a success and a great moral victory; but the ideas that led up to them were the purest examples of bone-headed bungling; and the man who thought them all up was a dunce.’
    • ‘Whatever grand claims spin-doctors make of their fabled and bewitching powers, they can no more teach a dunce to run the Department for Education than make a marquee the most exciting destination of the new millennium.’
    • ‘I'm such a dunce walking into a stupid place like this but its not like they could identify me.’
    • ‘But it is too much that the benefactors of mankind, after having been reviled by the dunces of their own generation for going too far, should be reviled by the dunces of the next generation for not going far enough.’
    • ‘The prose is clear enough that a math dunce like me can grasp it, and the superhero examples are enough, I think, to interest even someone who already knows physics.’
    • ‘But depression returned when we kept thinking it was dominated by ignorant dunces.’
    • ‘I know for a fact that I sound like a complete dunce when I leave my number, which takes twice as long as it should because I fail to plan ahead and have to wrack my brain for the Spanish translation of every digit.’
    • ‘In his early days, even the Master of Crime was a dunce.’
    • ‘As a reward, best-performing authorities will get greater financial freedom while the dunces face the threat of external intervention to sort them out.’
    • ‘Far from being instinct-driven dunces held back by a three-second memory, fish were cunning, manipulative, cultured and socially aware.’
    fool, idiot, stupid person, simpleton, halfwit, ignoramus, oaf, dolt, dullard, moron, imbecile, cretin
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Early 16th century: originally an epithet for a follower of John Duns Scotus (see Duns Scotus, John), whose followers were ridiculed by 16th-century humanists and reformers as enemies of learning.