In its typically humorless way Merriam-Webster defines nincompoop as “a stupid or silly person.” How many words are there for a stupid person? There’s nasty ones, like asshole, judgmental words like idiot and derogatory pronouncements like moron.
Nincompoop is a kinder, gentler way to say stupid. I learned the word from my grandmother. She often used it in reference to the guy who lived in the back room of her house who I called Uncle Rob, although I was never aware of any evidence relating us. Nincompoop has an ever so slight tinge of empathy, even affection, while still calling stupid stupid.
Some synonyms: boob, dolt, nitwit, lummox, ding-dong, schmuck.
Use of nincompoop predated my grandma. It goes back at least to the early 18th century. One story is that Samuel Johnson, who compiled the first English dictionary, traced it to the Latin phrase non compos mentis (“not of right mind”).
They aren’t buying that over at vocabulary.com: “Nincompoop is a silly-sounding word that’s also kind of old-fashioned, like ninny. No one has any solid idea where it came from, and anyone who claims otherwise is, well, a nincompoop.”
As always I checked the Urban Dictionary for some alternative definitions. Here are some highlights:
“A person who’s intelligence is at a lower caliber and proceeds to flaunt his idiocracy in an unappealing or inappropriate manor(sic).”
“A braindead self important little turd given an impressive sounding job title to keep him blissfully ignorant of the world shattering nefarious machinations of his keepers.”
“Slang term for anyone who is a devoted fan of Nine Inch Nails, or NIN, usually only used by other fans.”
Does anyone still use this word? I searched newspapers.com for use of nincompoop in 2021. I found one columnist, Kathleen Parker, who used it to try to explain Republicans fealty to Donald Trump: “either Trump has a stockpile of incriminating videos — his people have people you know — or today’s Republicans are the weakest, wimpiest crop of nincompoops in American history.” (Monroe, La., News Star, Feb. 1, 2021). Only other use of nincompoop was in a syndicated crossword puzzle.
I have many blogger friends who write poetry. As a service to them I went to rhymezone.com and found this list of words that you can rhyme with nincompoop: dupe, scoop, snoop, Guadeloupe, chicken soup, alleyoop, rock group and basketball hoop.
At least one person still uses the word as of 2010, when I was working front desk at a hotel, and my boss the owner-manager shouted out: “Andy, you’re a nincompoop!” Other than that, I’ve not heard it in recent years.
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