There is an interesting sidelight to this evolution of “dunderhead.” Our modern English word “blunderbuss,” which appeared in the 17th century meaning an early (and atrociously inaccurate) gun with a very large bore, was an adaptation of the Dutch term “donderbus” (“donder,” thunder, plus “bus,” firearm (originally meaning “box or tube”)). When “donderbus” was adopted into English, the “donder,” being unfamiliar to English-speakers, was modified to “blunder,” probably at least in part because the gun’s effects were crude and unpredictable. This association between “donner” or “donder” and “blunder” may also have played a role in the formation of “dunderhead,” since someone severely stupefied would likely be very clumsy as well. Interestingly, “blunderbuss” was used in the late 17th century to mean “a stupid, blundering person” (“Not such a hair-brain’d Blunderbuss as you,” 1692).

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8 comments on this post.
  1. OwenKL:

    Any relation between this word and “dunce”?

  2. brewstefer:

    Good interrogatory mate…

  3. Dunderhead | English Language Reference:

    […] by making half-knowledge comments. For an article that explains the origin of this word, please click here, for an article that talks of dunderheads in chess, please click here, for an article that shows us […]

  4. Wow watch Harry potter often:

    Dunderhead means idiot to those who watch or read Harry potter the word comes out of snaps mouth to kids who do dumb things like ruin a potion or melt their cauldron

  5. Book:

    The use of ‘dunderhead’ by Severus Snape in the first Harry Potter book was one of the first clues to his low upbringing in a northern English mill town. I see the word has Scottish roots, but I was wondering if it was specific to northern England, too. Close enough, I suppose.

  6. Cindy Legorreta:

    Here’s a variant I swear I heard two drunken English guys use, while arguing in a pub years ago. “Argh..John..you are a bleedin’ DUNDERPATE!!” My guess, faux Shakespeare?

  7. Death Or Lies:

    […] http://www.word-detective.com/2011/07/dunderhead/ […]

  8. Dunderhead:

    I have recently started using this word and decided to google. It one night found out it was an actual word. It means stupid or idiot. Is i true about coming from Harry potter.

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