Challenging Word of the WeeK: nescience

(NESH uns, -ee, uns) noun

Nescience is ignorance, lack of knowledge. It comes from Late Latin nescientia, based on the prefix ne- (not) plus Latin scienta (knowledge), which gave us our noun science. Nescience is one of a group of words composed of a prefix plus –science; omniscience (om NISH uns — universal knowledge); prescience (PREE shee uns, -shuns, PRESH ee uns, PRESH uns — foreknowledge). All these words have related adjectives: nescient (ignorant), omniscient (all-knowing), prescient (clairvoyant, prophetic). It is the nescience of the masses that permits the rise of demagogues. In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (Act 1, Scene 1), the Tribune Marullus, disgusted with the nescient common throng, calls them “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things…” In these days when reading has so much given way to sitting in front of the boob tube (awake or asleep), nescience is fast becoming epidemic.

My example: Pardon me if I borrow from Will Shakespeare, but I think it would be fitting for the Tribune Marullus to address the nescience of the StarTribune’s editorial staff: “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things…” Actually, we perhaps need a new word. If omniscient means all-knowing, then couldn’t omnescient refer to people who just think they know it all?

From the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House. I post a weekly “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into a post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it. Previous words in this series can be found under the appropriate Category heading in the right-hand sidebar.


MBMc at Port McClellan offers What Is You, Nescient?.

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