See more synonyms for know-nothing on
  1. an ignorant or totally uninformed person; ignoramus.
  2. an agnostic.
  3. (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.
  4. a person whose anti-intellectualism, xenophobia, and other political attitudes recall the Know-Nothings.
  1. grossly ignorant; totally uninformed.
  2. agnostic.
  3. (initial capital letters) of or relating to the Know-Nothings.
  4. of or relating to a political know-nothing.

Origin of know-nothing

First recorded in 1815–25
Related formsknow-noth·ing·ism, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for know-nothing

Contemporary Examples of know-nothing

  • Such revelations seem like the dream come true of know-nothing anti-Catholicism.

    The Daily Beast logo
    The Vatican's Sex Cover-up

    James Carroll

    March 11, 2010

  • Predictably enough, a certain brand of know-nothing militarist sees the need for yet another war.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Fighting Yemen's Terror Factory

    Matthew Yglesias

    December 31, 2009

  • Now the Russians recognize that Obama will be very different from his know-nothing predecessor.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Cold War II?

    Martin Sieff

    November 17, 2008

  • To be sure, patriot-Americans are not know-nothing nativists or backwater rubes, nor are post-Americans traitors.

Historical Examples of know-nothing

British Dictionary definitions for know-nothing


  1. 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

Word Origin and History for know-nothing

"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