A dunce is a dummy — someone who isn't smart. You might be tempted to call your little brother a dunce when he walks out the door with his shoes on the wrong feet.

It's not nice to call someone a dunce, though you might call yourself one when you study the wrong chapter before a big history test or get pulled over for yet another speeding ticket. The word dunce comes from a thirteenth century Scottish philosopher, John Duns Scotus, whose resistance to new ideas and mystical beliefs inspired opponents to equate his followers, the "Duns disciples," to "dullards." Later, some teachers made children wear pointed paper "dunce caps" when they misbehaved.

Definitions of dunce
  1. noun
    a stupid person; these words are used to express a low opinion of someone's intelligence
Word Family

Test prep from the experts

Boost your test score with programs developed by Vocabulary.com’s experts.

  • Proven methods: Learn faster, remember longer with our scientific approach.
  • Personalized plan: We customize your experience to maximize your learning.
  • Strategic studying: Focus on the words that are most crucial for success.


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 8 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 10 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 700+
  • Duration: 10 weeks
  • Time: 1 hour / week