When a character does something wrong (such as in school) or does something remarkably stupid they're shown wearing a large, white, coned shaped hat. "DUNCE" in large red letters, or a large "D", may be added for humiliation related purposes, or to exaggerate it. The character will likely be sitting on a stool in the corner, staring at the walls, as a punishment.
A variant is the "donkey ears" cap, formerly favored in France. It's what a court jester
Dunce (earlier, "dunce disciple") was derived from the name of John Duns Scotus (from Duns in Scotland), the Franciscan Scholastic philosopher, by the 16th century Renaissance
and Protestant opponents of Scholasticism.
Historically, heretics on their way to the stake
were forced to wear such a tall pointed cap, often with a letter painted on it to identify their type of heresy against God and the Church. This denoted that in the eyes of the Inquisition, the wearer was an obdurate heretic who had refused every reasonable offer to renounce their heresy and return to the straight and narrow path. In the eyes of people watching, it was supposed to be public humiliation.
While it is long out of practice
it is still often used in cartoon culture for a comedic effect. Compare the Japanese counterpart, Standing in the Hall
, which has a similar status.
- Though minus the dunce cap, in Anne of Green Gables, Anne Shirley is forced to stand in front of the class with "Ann Shirley has a very bad temper. Ann Shirley must learn to control her temper" written on the board behind her as punishment for smashing her slate over Gilbert Blythe's head for calling her "Carrots".
- In The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, a prequel book in the The Mysterious Benedict Society series, children in the orphanage which Nicholas Benedict is sent to that wake up screaming from a nightmare are forced to wear a dunce cap, at least until Nicholas changes things and makes the orphanage a better place.
- On the old Comedy Central game show Win Ben Stein's Money, whenever a contestant would begin an answer with "What is__?", Ben Stein would slap a dunce cap on them and shout "This is not Jeopardy"
- On Street Smarts, you could challenge you opponent to answer a question that was asked of the people on the street. If they didn't know it they'd have to wear a dunce cap for the rest of the round and you won money. But if they did know it then they got the money and you got the cap.
- El Chavo del ocho: El Chavo, Quico and La Chillindrina were on remedial classes and Don Ramon and Dona Florinda were allowed to be present at class as spectators. At the end of the episode, Professor Jirafales was glad only one person in there deserved donkey ears. Don Ramon was shown wearing them.
- On Family Feud, when Louie Anderson hosted the show, if a contestant gave a very stupid answer, they would receive a dunce cap for the stupidest answer of the day.
- The third season of The Amazing Race featured an infamous incident in which Heather and Eve took a taxi to the Pit Stop for the leg, even though the clue clearly said to proceed on foot. Following this, they tried to make some sort of lame excuse about why they thought it was okay, leading one fan to create a graphic with host Phil Keoghan holding a book titled Reading for Dummies and one of the two writing "Walk means on foot, not take a taxi" on a chalkboard and the other wearing a dunce cap.
- Kate Bush wears one in the video for "Sat In Your Lap".
- Missy Elliot briefly wears one in the video for "Work It."
- Used as a silly Bragging Rights Reward in Bully. It makes sense, though, when you realize you get it by failing three straight Classes (read: minigames).
- In Escape from Monkey Island, one puzzle is to do as badly as possible in a school so you're stuck with a dunce cap. You then have to wear it so you don't leave a splash as you hit the water during a diving competition.
- In MechQuest, your character gets one upon arriving late to his Mech Combat 101 class (by 3.0456 seconds) on his first day at GEARS University, after thinking "At least she's not going to make me wear a silly hat."
- A cursed item in NetHack that causes your intelligence and wisdom to drop when you wear it. Before being identified, it appears as "a conical hat"... indistinguishable from the useful Wizard's Hat.note
- If you try to summon an "Idiot" on Scribblenauts, you'll get a kid wearing one of these. He loves eating bugs.
- Mentioned in an episode of Freeman's Mind: "I'm going to make a dunce cap, and you're going to wear it."
- The Lonely Island/SNL Digital Short "Shy Ronnie" features a kid with one of these sitting in the back of the room.