Omniana/Volume 1/Etymology of Dunce

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2. Etymology of Dunce.

Dunce is said by Samuel Johnson to be a word of unknown etymology. Stanihurst explains it. The term Duns, from Scotus, "so famous for his subtill quiddities, he says, is so trivial and common in all schools, that whoso surpasseth others either in cavilling sophistrie, or subtill philosophic, is forthwith nicknamed a Duns." This, he tells us in the margin is the reason, "why schoolmen are called Dunses." (Description of Ireland, p. 2.) The word easily past into a term of scorn, just as a blockhead is called Solomon; a bully, a Hector; and as Moses is the vulgar name of contempt for a Jew.