The First Dunce

John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308) was a Scottish philosopher and theologian who left behind a large body of work on a myriad of philosophical and religious topics when he died in 1308. As a theologian, he was one of the most important of his era. However, perhaps his most lasting legacy comes simply from his name.

By the 1590’s, people had begun using his name to demean anyone who argued conservatively and from there the name morphed into “dunce” and came to describe anyone who was slow or dull-witted.

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Justus van Gent (fl. 1460–1480) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons