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[noh-nuhth-ing] /ˈnoʊˌnʌθ ɪŋ/
an ignorant or totally uninformed person; ignoramus.
an agnostic.
(initial capital letters) U.S. History. a member of a political party (American party or Know-Nothing party) prominent from 1853 to 1856, whose aim was to keep control of the government in the hands of native-born citizens: so called because members originally professed ignorance of the party's activities.
a person whose anti-intellectualism, xenophobia, and other political attitudes recall the Know-Nothings.
grossly ignorant; totally uninformed.
(initial capital letters) of or relating to the Know-Nothings.
of or relating to a political know-nothing.
Origin of know-nothing
First recorded in 1815-25
Related forms
know-nothingism, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for know-nothings
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • A secret society, also political, was formed here, known as the know-nothings.

    Mysticism and its Results John Delafield
  • What do you mean, you know-nothings, by flattening the sail like that?

    The Rover's Secret Harry Collingwood
  • They were also called the know-nothings, that's what they always said.

  • The know-nothings, likewise, though their number had been steadily melting away, had not entirely disappeared.

    Abraham Lincoln and the Union Nathaniel W. Stephenson
  • The campaign was a crucial one, and the know-nothings never recovered from their defeat.

    Stephen Arnold Douglas William Garrott Brown
  • Mr. Toombs plunged at once into the canvass and proceeded, in his own vigorous way, to fight the know-nothings.

    Robert Toombs Pleasant A. Stovall
  • As a part of the history of the times, it may be proper to give the rise and progress of the so-called order of "know-nothings."

    Mysticism and its Results John Delafield
  • But there is a party lately come into the field, and called the know-nothings, which requires a special notice.

British Dictionary definitions for know-nothings


(informal, derogatory) an ignorant person
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 know-nothings



"ignoramus," 1827, from know + nothing. As a U.S. nativist political party, active 1853-56, the name refers to the secret society at the core of the party, about which members were instructed to answer, if asked about it, that they "know nothing." The party eventually merged into the Republican Party.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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know-nothings in Culture

Know-Nothings definition

A party opposed to the holding of public office by immigrants or Roman Catholics. The Know-Nothings, also known as “nativists,” insisted that only true, “native” Americans should serve in the government. The party was quite successful in the 1850s but split over the slavery question. Its official name was the American party. It picked up the “Know-Nothing” tag because its members, maintaining secrecy about the party's activities, customarily answered questions with, “I know nothing.”

Note: Today, the term know-nothing is usually applied to bigots.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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