Uncertain; the first element nincom- is possibly from the name Nicholas or Nicodemus (compare French nicodème (“foolish or gullible person”), from the Pharisee named Nicodemus mentioned in the Bible who asks Jesus seemingly naive questions: see John 3:1–21), or from ninny (“foolish or silly person”), while the second element -poop could be derived from poop (“(obsolete) to cheat, deceive, fool”). The English lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709–1784) suggested that the first element might be from Latin non compos (mentis) (“not of sound mind”), but the Oxford English Dictionary notes that this does not correspond with early forms of the word from the 16th century such as nickumpoop and nicompoop.
- (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /ˈnɪŋkəmpuːp/
- (General American) IPA(key): /ˈnɪŋkəmˌpup/, /ˈnɪn-/
Audio (GA) (file)
- Hyphenation: nin‧com‧poop
nincompoop (plural nincompoops)
- (derogatory) A foolish or silly person. [from 16th c.]
- [1662?], The Ship of Fools [...], London: Printed by J[ohn] W[inter] for J[ohn] Clark, […], →OCLC, title page:
- The Ship of Fools Fully Fraught and Richly Laden with Asses, Fools, Jack-daws, Ninnihammers, Coxcombs, Slender-wits, Shallowbrains, Paper-Skuls, Simpletons, Nickumpoops, Wiseakers, Dunces, and Blockheads. Declaring their several Natures, Manners, and Constitutions; the occasion why this Ship was built, with the places of their intended Voyage, and a lift of the Officers that bear Command therein [book title].
- 1674 (first performance), T[homas] Duffett, The Mock-Tempest: or The Enchanted Castle. […], London: Printed for William Cademan […], published 1675, →OCLC; republished in Montague Summers, “The New Tempest or The Enchanted Castle”, in Shakespeare Adaptations: The Tempest, The Mock Tempest, and King Lear. […], London: Jonathan Cape […], 1922, →OCLC, Act I, scene i, page 114:
- Mous[trappa]. O you huffing Son of a Whore. / Drink[allup]. You rotten Jack in a box. / Bean[tosser]. You foul mouth'd Nickumpoop.
- 1680, M. T. [i.e., Matthew Stevenson], “Cydippe Her Answer to Acontius”, in The Wits Paraphras’d: Or, Paraphrase upon Paraphrase: In a Burlesque on the Several Late Translations of Ovids Epistles, London: Printed for Will[iam] Cademan […], →OCLC, page 161:
- ’Tis ſuch another Nincompoop, / I ſleep, and he begins to droop. / He ſees, yet keeps his Eyes a winking, / Says nought, but pays it off with thinking.
- 1694, [Thomas] d’Urfey, The Comical History of Don Quixote. […], part I, London: […] Samuel Briscoe, […], →OCLC, Act I, scene ii, page 6:
- Oh, thou Dromedary, thou Founder'd Mule, without a Pack-ſaddle; or what other foul Beaſt ſhall I call thee, for Man thou art not, nor haſt not been to me, Heaven knows the time when? Art not thou aſham'd to ſee me, thou Nincompoop?
- 1706, Michael de Cervantes Saavedra [i.e., Miguel de Cervantes], “How Don Quixote Took His Leave of the Duke, and what Happen’d between Him and the Witty Wanton Altisidora, the Duchesses Damsel”, in John Stevens, transl., The History of the Most Ingenious Knight Don Quixote de la Mancha. […], 2nd revised and amended edition, volume II, London: Printed for R. Chiswell, S. and J. Sprint, R. Battersby, S. Smith, and B. Walford, M. Wotton and G. Conyers, →OCLC, page 335:
- May'ſt thou paſs for a Nincumpoop all the World over, / From Paris to France, and from England to Dover.
- 1767, [Laurence Sterne], chapter XXV, in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, volume IX, London: […] T. Becket and P. A. Dehondt, […], →OCLC, page 99:
- [S]hall I be call'd as many blockheads, numſculs, doddypoles, dunderheads, ninnyhammers, gooſecaps, joltheads, nicompoops, and ſ—t-a-beds—and other unſavory appelations, […]
- 1787 November, “Explanation of the Fifth Plate of Tristram Shandy. Corporal Trim’s Reflections on Mortality in the Kitchen, on the Death of Master Bobby.”, in The Gentleman’s and London Magazine: Or Monthly Chronologer, Dublin: Printed by John Exshaw, →OCLC, page 589, column 2:
- [H]ad he dropped it [a hat] like a gooſe—like a puppy—like an aſs—or in doing it, or even after he had done, had he looked like a fool,—like a ninny—like a nicompoop—it had failed, and the effects upon the heart had been loſt.
- 1802, Joanna Baillie, “The Election: A Comedy, in Five Acts”, in A Series of Plays: In which It is Attempted to Delineate the Stronger Passions of the Mind. […], 2nd edition, volume II, London: Printed for T[homas] Cadell, Jun. and W[illiam] Davies, […], →OCLC, act I, scene i, pages 4–5:
- What, do you give it up so? you poor, ſpiritleſs nincumpoops! I would roar till I burſted firſt, before I would give it up so to such a low-liv'd, beggarly rabble.
- 1905 January 12, Baroness Orczy [i.e., Emma Orczy], “The Scarlet Pimpernel”, in The Scarlet Pimpernel, popular edition, London: Greening & Co., published 20 March 1912, →OCLC, page 183:
- No wonder that Chauvelin's spies had failed to detect, in the apparently brainless nincompoop, the man whose reckless daring and resourceful ingenuity had baffled the keenest French spies, both in France and in England.
- 1965, Marius Nkwoh, Bribery and Corruption: Bane of Our Society, Aba, Abia, Nigeria: International Press, →OCLC, page 110:
- Because of this situation, you find the idlers, the never-do-wells, the nicompoops, the unqualified and the misfits these days getting on better in life than their hardworking colleagues.
- 2019, John R. Brandt, “Overview: Are We Really Surrounded by Nincompoops?”, in Nincompoopery: Why Your Customers Hate You—and How to Fix It, New York, N.Y.: HarperCollins Leadership, →ISBN, pages 2–3:
- Production failures, screw-ups, and faulty service aren't usually the fault of the supposed nincompoops with whom we're dealing but instead the Nincompoopery—i.e., the meta-foolishness—of the companies and systems in which they're forced to work. Ill-planned, outdated, or ludicrous organizational structures can turn even the most eager employee into a nincompoop, or at least force him or her to seem like one.