Tap to Read ➤

All You Know Need to Know About the Dunce Cap

Vijith Menon Mar 18, 2020
What is a dunce cap? The dunce cap was used on a misbehaving student to serve as a warning for all the others trying to do the same. Read on to know the history of the dunce cap, and the reason behind its banishment.

Did You Know?

November 8, the day John Duns Scotus (Middle Age philosopher) died, is celebrated as Dunce Day.
Do you remember the episode of Tom and Jerry where Jerry teaches his student how to outsmart cats? And when he fails, he sits in a corner wearing the dunce cap. A dunce cap is conical in shape with a sharp-pointed end, with the words 'dunce' written in bold. It was a form of punishment to curb mischievous students and their antics.
Seeing those pointed caps reminds us of Albus Dumbledore in Hogwarts? Do they look that stupid? Maybe they ran out of fashion sense but not common sense, that they would keep wearing the same hat for so many years? Only Crabbe and Goyle deserved it. Stay with us as we trace the origins of the dunce cap, and the reason for its existence.


The word 'dunce' originates from a prominent Scottish philosopher by the name of John Duns Scotus. Dunce caps were a tool used to curb misbehavior. Students who made a racket or nuisance were forced to wear it and sit in a corner silently while being mocked by others.
These students weren't dumb though, just inattentive or naughty. All in all, dunce caps were usually worn by class clowns or rowdy students.
This kind of punishment would be considered cruel in current times. Plus, with everyone carrying a cell phone, the teacher would be expelled faster than you can say 'Detention'. Who would be the dunce then? Dunce is the pronunciation of the Medieval word Duns.

About the Inventor

John Duns Scotus was a philosopher and teacher by profession. He was renowned for his lectures, and taught at Oxford University. He was known for his logical arguments, and had about 200 arguments defending the Immaculate Conception (Christ's mother conceived without Original Sin). He had a number of followers called Dunsmen or Dunses.
He invented the dunce cap, because he believed that knowledge would flow into the hat, and he could contain it inside this conical container. He was penalized for taking sides with Pope Boniface VIII in the matters of the Church paying property taxes. But he shortly resumed teaching in Paris.
Due to the age of New Thinking and Renaissance around the corner, he was shunned for his brilliant ideas. And, the Dunsmen were mocked by shortening their official name to dunces, according to their pronunciation at that time.
Blamed for their short-sightedness and not accepting the new ways of thinking, the dunce caps, once a symbol of enlightenment, was reduced to stupidity. But his reputation wasn't totally shunned. The Catholic Church loved him, and he was highly recommended by Pope John XXIII for those studying theology.
He was even blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1993. On 8th November 1308, he died, not known for his intelligence, but for inventing a symbol for dim-wittedness. Many heretics and naysayers were shown wearing this symbol for their ignorance, before being executed.

In Popular Culture

▷ Put on misbehaving children in the era before timeouts were prevalent.

▷ Dunce caps became known in England because of Charles Dickens in his story The Old Curiosity Shop.
▷ It was used as a form of penance in the Santa Semana Festival held in Spain. But the user covered his face during the procession to be spared the humiliation. These hats were called capirotes. These are not to be confused with the pointed hats worn in the Ku Klux Clan.
▷ Clowns wear pointed hats to depict clumsiness and stupidity.

▷ They are even worn in birthday parties to depict their casual and frivolous atmosphere.
This was all about the Dunce Cap, it's history and references. To have some fun of your own, you can make a dunce cap for yourself and your friends.