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I try to use the 2nd or 3rd definition of words (to slow down speed readers). However, I am not sure if "ignorance" has a 2nd definition.

(common meaning) is "a lack of knowledge". With this meaning, no syllable is stressed.

  • My ignorance of hardware means I cannot build my own pc.

(2nd meaning?) If pronounced differently, I think that "ignorance" can also mean "a willful and careless disregard of something". The "nor" syllable in "ig-NOR-ance" must be stressed.

  • The French were aware of the strategic weakness of the Maginot Line, and their ignorance of it enabled the German blitz through the Low Countries.
  • My ignorance of my girlfriend's hourly text messages quickly caused our break-up.

In a dictionary, "ignorance" is only defined as "lack of knowledge". But, I am not talking about that "ignorance". I am talking about the "ignorance" that is derived from "to ignore" and thus pronounced just like "to ignore", and thus has the meaning of "to ignore". There is precedence for this:

"to accept" --- derive ---> "acceptance"
"to ignore" --- derive ---> "ignorance"

Anyone agree with me?

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Ignorance can be either intensional or accidental. Accidental ignorance is the normal state of humankind; intensional ignorance, on the other hand, is perhaps the only real sin. –  John Lawler Jun 21 at 16:26
@John: I was "accidentally ignorant" of the difference between intensional ignorance and intentional ignorance when I first read your comment. After reading Wikipedia's definition of intensional, I'm still not really any the wiser. I can understand that I might now be wilfully/intentionally ignorant because I've deliberately not made the effort to fully grok the linguistics term, but what would it mean if I was intensionally ignorant? (Apart from the fact that apparently I won't be going to heaven when I die :). –  FumbleFingers Jun 21 at 17:10
Well, I simply misspelled it. So don't go waxing too philosophic. –  John Lawler Jun 21 at 17:23
I agree with you (partly). I've heard a few times (in my head it's said in a female Scottish accent, lord knows what I must have done wrong at the time) You did that out of ignorance most definitely meaning You did that wilfully and maliciously (rather than because you didn't know better). No difference in pronunciation though I think. –  Frank Jun 21 at 18:10
I don't have any sources to back this up, but I've heard it used the second way colloquially in the UK, e.g. "I don't like it when he puts football on while I'm in the room. It's ignorant" meaning the football fan was rudely ignoring the speaker. It's not something I'd use in conversation personally though. –  yochannah Jun 21 at 21:46

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Most dictionaries show usages which are reasonably common, to explain what might be happened across. Thus there is a lower limit, below which a particular dictionary might not mention a usage even though it has been used.

The OED's lower limit is very low; it's a historical dictionary. Ignorance appears in three main senses:

1. a. The fact or condition of being ignorant; want of knowledge (general or special).
b. Constr. of (†in, or subord. clause).
c. With an and pl.: An instance or example of ignorance. rare.
2. With an and pl. An act due to want of knowledge; an offence or sin caused by ignorance.
3. (In full the time or days of ignorance; tr. Arabic jāhilīyah state of ignorance, < jāhil ignorant.) The period of Arabian history previous to the teaching of Muhammad.

This doesn't mention your usage at all, even as an obsolete sense (with a dagger mark) which could possibly be revived.

So no, ignorance doesn't mean ignoring. Ignorance only means lack of knowledge, and has never meant the deliberate act of ignoring. So you would need to use that word.

My ignoring of my girlfriend's hourly text messages quickly caused our break-up.

OED shows the etymology:

< French ignorance (12th cent. in Littré) = Italian ignoranzia, Spanish ignorancia, < Latin ignōrāntia, < ignōrānt-em ignorant adj. and n.

...and ignorant there simply means "one who has no knowledge" of something.

It is in fact ignore which has changed its meaning over time. OED has first the obsolete sense related to ignorance:

1. trans. Not to know, to be ignorant of. Obs. or rare.

Over time, ignore has become rather more deliberate. One has no knowledge of something because one has chosen to have no knowledge of it.

Ignorance has not followed this path.

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And in French, ignorer still means not know, which can lead to misunderstanding when a French speaker mistakenly says ignore in English, intending that meaning. –  Colin Fine Jun 21 at 16:22

I don't see a second definition either. However, as I expect you would know, ignore is a verb that would enable you to say "My ignoring of my girlfriend's hourly text messages . . ." That would convey that you made a decision to not expose yourself to the information.

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"Ignorance" doesn't generally imply willful lack of knowledge. If you stress the NOR, it would be clear what you meant in speech, but for writing, I would use "By ignoring my girlfriend's hourly text messages, I quickly caused our break-up." It's not only has clearer meaning, but also a more active voice. You might also consider "neglect" if you want to imply that reading the texts was an unfulfilled responsibility.

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Even though it is wrong, I still might use "ignorance" as "willful disregard" just to make how I communicate more interesting. But, you are absolutely correct. I can't do it in writing. I have to stress the "nor" syllable, or else it sounds very unnatural and is confusing. thanks. –  user312440 Jun 21 at 21:25

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