Thursday, May 20, 2010

Word of the Week: Dunce

How could a word for describing a stupid, slow-witted person be interesting? Read on. The word dunce, first used in the 16th century, derives from the name of the Scottish philosopher and theologian John Duns Scotus (c. 1265-1308). His middle name is a reference to his birthplace, believed to be Duns, in Berwickshire, Scotland. Scotus was an important Franciscan theologian from the High Middle Ages and founded a form of Scholasticism--a method of learning which attempted to reconcile classical philosophy with medieval Christianity--known as Scotism. Beginning in the 14th century, Scotus's works became the standard textbooks in universities. In the 16th century, humanists, reacting against medieval theology, singled out Scotus for ridicule and called any follower of Scotus a Duns or Dunsman. The term later morphed into dunce as its meaning broadened to include any slow-witted person. The word dunce derives from petty name-calling, one school of philosophy deriding another. And here's the kicker. If you're familiar with Duns Scotus's writings today, you are certainly not a dunce.

No comments:

Post a Comment