Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Word For The Day: nincompoop

nincompoop - ninn-cum-poop: noun.  1) a silly, foolish or stupid person.  Etymology: despite a similarity to the Latin legal phrase non compos mentis "not mentally competent", etymologists doubt this derivation because the earliest forms lack the second "n".  Others think the first element may be a proper name, and cite "Nicodemus", which is used in French for "a fool," or "Nicholas" - something to remember when naming your next baby.  (Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper)  According to Michael Quinion's excellent website www.worldwidewords.org the Dutch phrase nicht om poep ("female relative of a fool") is not a likely candidate, despite the similarity and geographical/historical proximity of the two languages.  He points out that "there was once an English verb poop, to fool or cheat, and it did come from Dutch poep, the original Dutch word meant a shit or a fart — the English slang poop ... comes from this."  He too prefers "... one with a fair level of acceptance that is given with some caution in the current revision of the OED [Oxford English Dictionary] links it with the given name Nicodemus, especially the Pharisee of that name who questioned Christ so naively in the Gospel of St John.  This word still exists in French as nicodème, a simpleton."  For Michael's full discussion of nincompoop's etymology please click on the link to explore his very fine website.