When Kelsey first proposed “nincompoop” as the Wednesday word, I was a bit taken aback. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard someone use that word—it sounded so foreign! But as the week progressed, I found myself using it in conversation (much to the surprise of my unsuspecting friends). After a few days of throwing the word around in casual conversation, I decided to do a little research into it’s origin. I needed only to click around on the internet for a few minutes to realize that there isn’t one hard or fast conclusion about where the word came from. In fact, it seems as though every etymology-obsessed blogger has a different answer.
Before delving into a history lesson, we’ll cover the definition and current usage of the word. Merriam Webster defines nincompoop as a “fool, simpleton.” Urban dictionary defines a nincompoop as “a silly, no brain, fool.” On a side note, I also learned from that nincompoopery is a word too—try working that one into conversation this week!
Now that we’ve got the basics covered, we can move on to the more interesting stuff. Some say that nincompoop has its origins in latin (shout out to all you latin scholars) and the phrase “non compos mentis” which translates to “not of sound mind”. Others claim that the word comes from French, and was derived from the phrase “ne comprend pas,” meaning he does not understand. A third theory is that the word actually comes from the dutch phrase “nicht om poep” which translates to “the female relative of a fool”.
Another common argument is that the the word is tied to biblical roots. The word sounds strikingly similar to the name of a biblical character, Nicodemus, who naively questions Jesus Christ in the gospel.
From what I gather from my cursory internet search, there has been hot debate over the true etymology of the word since in first came into usage in the late 1600’s. Today, the debate rages on, and the truth about the origin of the word remains largely uncertain. However, there is a growing school of scholars who believe that the word may simply be an invented word– in essence, a combination of silly sounds and parts of words thrown together. Still, the stories make for an interesting google search. So next time you’re stuck in an awkward dinner table conversation (and you’ve already discussed the weather), ask people if they know where the word “nincompoop” comes from. Try tossing out some of these theories- or even invent your own!