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. 2019

Related Words for know-nothings

fool, dunce, idiot, blockhead, imbecile, moron, dimwit, know-nothing, numbskull

Examples from the Web for know-nothings

Contemporary Examples of know-nothings

Historical Examples of know-nothings

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

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

know-nothings in Culture


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.”


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