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Dunce Cap

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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 stereotypically wears.

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 now long out of practice it is still often used in cartoons for a rather comedic effect. Compare the Japanese counterpart, Standing in the Hall, which has a similar status.


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    Comic Book 
  • The Flash: Bart Allen often thinks in Rebus Bubbles; sometimes, when he (or anyone else in the immediate vicinity) says or does something stupid, or he simply does not understand what the hell is going on, a bubble will appear with the person of scorn wearing a dunce hat.
  • The French "donkey ears" variant is occasionally seen in Asterix, when Getafix is trying to teach the village children.
  • Green Lantern: Golden Age Green Lantern foe The Fool's costume incorporated one.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Happens all the time in Our Gang shorts when they're in school.
  • Pete's Dragon (1977) has the titualar character Pete get a dunce cap put on his head, among other things, by his teacher when he gets in trouble for things that Elliot (the dragon) has actually done as well as his seemingly farfetched claims that "It was Elliot!"
  • Iron Man 3: "Dummy" is wearing one while sweeping up Tony's lab. Dummy is a robotic arm.
    Tony: Do you know why you're wearing that cap? Because you EARNED it.

  • 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.

    Live Action TV 
  • Our Miss Brooks: Dumb Jock Stretch Snodgrass is forced to wear a dunce cap in "The Mambo".
  • 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.
  • Saturday Night Live Digital Short "Shy Ronnie" features a kid wearing a dunce cap sitting in the back of the classroom.
  • In "Little Guy, Black Hair," from Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Farah and Todd are both made to wear these for their execution. They even have "DUNCE" written on them.

  • Kate Bush wears one in the video for "Sat In Your Lap".
  • Missy Elliott briefly wears one in the video for "Work It."
  • This is referenced by Jiminy Cricket in a classic Disney safety song called "Stop, Look and Listen/I'm No Fool (As a Pedestrian)", now available on the Pinocchio Legacy Collection set. "Any fool gets out of cars / The wrong side only once / And if he lives to tell the tale / He's crowned a stupid dunce."

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin got this punishment twice for mouthing off in class. The first time was when he suggested a debate on cannibalism. The second was when he claimed that B. C. stood for "Before Calvin" while giving a history report.

    Video Games 
  • Used as a form of Achievement Mockery in Bully, where you can unlock a wearable dunce cap by failing three straight Classes (read: minigames). Naturally, other students will laugh at you for wearing it, though you can beat them up for doing so.
  • In Escape from Monkey Island, one puzzle is to do as badly as possible in the "pirate reform school" on Knuttin Atoll 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.
    Guybrush: Well, I may be a dunce, but I'm a mighty pirate dunce!
  • 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."
  • In Mixed-Up Mother Goose, as you follow Mary into the schoolhouse after giving her back her lamb and you'll see one of her classmates sitting in the corner wearing this.
  • 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 
    • Oddly enough the cap does have one potential use, since it sets your intelligence to a specific value and does not allow it to be changed it can prevent you from dying to a mindflayer's brain-sucking attack, which even the Amulet of Life Saving can't can't reverse.
  • If you try to summon an "Idiot" on Scribblenauts, you'll get a kid wearing one of these. He loves eating bugs.
  • In Swim Ika Chan, a dunce cap is your main weapon (you swim upwards to poke enemies with the pointed bit).
  • One of the new additional powerups in the Afertbirth DLC of The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a dunce cap that gives the player character permanently crossed eyes. It's also one of the biggest examples of a Power Up Letdown as it makes it so your shots only go at diagonals instead of straight, almost as if saying the player would have to be a dunce to take it (outside of certain item combinations)
  • Weird and Unfortunate Things Are Happening: The Dumbass Ghosts wear such caps, "DUNCE" being written from the tip to the bottom.

    Web Original 
  • Mentioned in an episode of Freeman's Mind: "I'm going to make a dunce cap, and you're going to wear it."
  • On the animated short film I, Pet Goat II, George W. Bush appears wearing one.


    Western Animation 
  • In Yankee Doodle Bugs, Bugs Bunny helps his nephew Clyde study U.S. history for a test, but unfortunately Bugs' historical information isn't worth crap. After Clyde gets home:
    Bugs: Well, Clyde! How did you make out on your history exam?
    Clyde: [Puts dunce cap on his head] Does this answer your question?
  • Happens in the 1938 Merrie Melodies short, Katnip Kollege, to the bespectacled cat hero, Johnnie, who lacks rhythm and can't swing.
  • In "The Little School Mouse", Tuffy displeases Jerry, flees to the stool in the corner and puts the dunce cap on his own head. At the end of the short, Tuffy is leading his own class consisting of Tom and Jerry - the latter is now wearing it.
  • There was a character in a dunce cap in Disney's animated series Adventures In Music, which consisted of two shorts, "Melody" and "Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom". These went on to be the Disney Sing Along Songs opening. It was on the beginning of every video, seen here.
  • Popeye:
    • In one short, his sailor's cap mutates into a dunce cap when Olive goes into Sarcasm Mode for his being completely wrong about his prediction of a sunny day!
    • One short has Popeye and Olive attend an adult education class. When Popeye can't even get what 5 plus 4 is, he is made to wear a dunce cap and repeat "Five and four are nine" over and over. He falls asleep and goes into a Dream Sequence where he's lauded as a genius and then captured by spies.
  • Futurama:
    • "The Day the Earth Stood Stupid", Leela's pet Nibbler "wins" a conical hat for being the Dumbest Pet in Show. The hat has the word "DUMB" written on it.
    • Professor Farnsworth gets a holographic cone placed on his head as a dunce cap in the episode "The Duh-Vinci Code" for not understanding the course material on Planet Vinci.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy:
    • When Kevin calls Edd a dork for trying to teach the cul-de-sac common sense, Edd shoves a cap on him.
      Eddy: What a DUNCE!! [Kevin headbutts Eddy]
      Nazz: Boy Kevin, that was stupid.
    • In one episode when Eddy is walking home from school, there is a dunce cap on his head.
  • One Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons had Homer Simpson make a dunce cap out of a torn storybook page, only to have it burned off after accidentally leaning next to a candle on the shelf above him.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998):
    • Back when he was a kid, Professor Utonium was a prankster who once put a whoopie cushion at another boy's chair. The teacher forced the other boy to wear a dunce cap with "Class Clown" written on it as punishment while young Utonium became a Karma Houdini.
    • Blossom has a dunce cap on during her nightmare sequence of "Power-noia" as she appears to be tanking in school. But once she finds out Him is behind things, Blossom puts on her game face.
  • In the ChalkZone episode "Hole in the Wall", the gang enters an old school house and Rudy finds one of these, saying that he'd be wearing it all the time if Mr. Wilter had one.
  • In "Never Too Late To Loon" (part of "Test Stressed") on Tiny Toon Adventures, Plucky has to wear one after he is put in detention for failing his math test. (He had asked Shirley to "channel Einstein" for him, not realizing that Einstein was a dunce at basic math as a child.Note )
  • Parodied in the South Park episode "Go God Go", where Mr. Garrison punished Stan for believing in God by putting him in the "dunce chair", putting a cap on him that reads "I HAVE FAITH".
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episode "Hearts and Hooves Day", after Big Mac and Cheerilee fall victim to the love poison, Apple Bloom has an Imagine Spot of Ponyville being overrun with uneducated starving ponies, one of whom, Lily Valley, is wearing one of these.
  • Fozzie is forced to wear one of these on an episode of Muppet Babies (1984) after interrupting Baby Piggy's lesson plans in (make-believe) school with one of his many jokes.
  • The Fairly OddParents!: In "The Secret Origin of Denzel Crocker", Mr. Crocker, who is more sadistic than usual today, tortures Timmy by putting a cap on him and seating him in a corner surrounded by rabid dogs.
  • In the Teen Titans episode "Mad Mod", after all the titans get trapped in the titular villain's massive school, Beast Boy turns up in a science lab with a white cap on his head, while drooling in front of one of Mad Mod's hypno-screens.
  • Cow and Chicken: In "Cow's Pie", Chicken gets sent to the corner, and made to wear a cap reading "STUPID", after he yells a Big "SHUT UP!" meant for Cow.
  • Hans gets made to wear one and sit on a stool in Education for Death, because he dared to empathize with the rabbit in the teacher's parable about a fox eating a rabbit. The intended moral was "The world belongs to the strong".
  • The Bump in the Night episode "Story Problems" has Mr. Bumpy put a dunce cap on his head while bemoaning his inability to redo the boy's homework after he ate it.
  • In the DuckTales (1987) episode "Bubba's Big Brainstorm", Bubba Duck is shown wearing a dunce cap when he shows his report card to Scrooge McDuck (which is all Z's). Later, when Bubba Duck demonstrates his new intelligence enabled by Gyro Gearloose's thinking cap to the class, the teacher Mrs. Quackenbush responds by putting on a dunce cap and packing her bags to go back to college.
  • In the Mickey Mouse (2013) short "Hats Enough", a dunce cap is one of the hats Mickey tries on.
  • In the The Owl House episode “I Was a Teenage Abomination”, Eda is forced to wear a “Shame Hat” (basically a dunce cap with the word “SHAME” written on it) after losing a bet to King.
  • In the Little Lulu short "Bored of Education", Lulu is asked to answer history questions and receives wrong answers from Tubby. She is forced to the corner with a dunce cap after this exchange.
    Teacher: Lulu, when did Ben Franklin die?
    Lulu: Gee, did he die? I didn't know he was even sick.
  • In the Little Audrey short "Goofy Goofy Gander", Audrey wears one after she is caught reading a comic book in class.
  • Rockin' with Judy Jetson: When Judy is caught working on a song in the middle of her history class, her teacher makes her wear a dunce cap.

    Real Life 
  • Around 271 AD Roman soldiers had attacked a group of Gothic soldiers and captured some of them as prisoners of war. Among them were 16 women who were crossdressing as men. Before their inevitable death or enslavement as POWs they were paraded through the streets of Rome with signs hanged on them that mockingly proclaimed them “Amazons”.
  • Some Holy Week traditions in Spain involve wearing a pointed capirote cap as a form of penitence. The cap is tall, with cloth covering the cap and face, with holes cut out for the eyes. There's usually a flowing robe to go along with it. Visitors from the US are sometimes scandalized by the uncanny resemblance of this garment to those of The Klan, but, and this can't be stressed enough, the resemblance ends with the uniform.