Everyone knows what a dunce is, but not everyone knows that it derives from the name of a 13th century Franciscan scholar called John Duns Scotus who taught theology and philosophy at Oxford. For centuries, his work was highly respected but by the 16th century, it was under attack firstly by St Thomas Aquinas and later by anti-Catholic reformists. His followers were originally known as Duns men but during the 16th century, the religious climate at Oxford had changed radically. Duns increasingly became a term of ridicule for hair-splitting sophistry and by the close of the same century a dunce had become a dull-witted, stupid person. A dunce cap is a conical paper hat worn as a degrading punishment by slow or lazy pupils and dates from the 19th century. All of which seems a somewhat harsh legacy to set at the door of the well-meaning Duns Scotus.