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Dunce (?), n. [From Joannes Duns Scotus, a schoolman called the Subtle Doctor, who died in 1308. Originally in the phrase "a Duns man". See Note below.]

One backward in book learning; a child or other person dull or weak in intellect; a dullard; a dolt.

I never knew this town without dunces of figure. Swift.

⇒ The schoolmen were often called, after their great leader Duns Scotus, Dunsmen or Duncemen. In the revival of learning they were violently opposed to classical studies; hence, the name of Dunce was applied with scorn and contempt to an opposer of learning, or to one slow at learning, a dullard.

 

© Webster 1913.