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 formsdun·ci·cal, dunc·ish, adjectivedunc·ish·ly, adverb

Synonyms for dunce

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for dunce

Contemporary Examples of dunce

Historical Examples of dunce

  • Fowell learnt very little at school, and was regarded as a dunce and an idler.


    Samuel Smiles

  • He was long described by his Spartan mother, who thought him a dunce, as only ‘food for powder.’


    Samuel Smiles

  • The world's a father to a Dunce unknown, And much he thrives, for Dulness!

  • A fool, a dunce, or a bad man does harm and not good in the world.

  • After all, Harry was no dunce, but he was not yet convinced.

    'Charge It'

    Irving Bacheller

British Dictionary definitions for dunce



a person who is stupid or slow to learn
Derived Formsduncelike, adjective

Word Origin for dunce

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

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