According to the OED, the word English Nimrod is derived from the Hebrew, where in Genesis 10:8–9 he is described as ‘a mighty one in the earth’ and ‘a mighty hunter before the Lord’. It is apparently still a popular name in Israel.

This would match the OED’s definitions:

  1. A tyrannical ruler; a tyrant. Obs.
  2. A great hunter; one who is fond of, or given to, hunting.

But you never hear it used that way any longer. Now it’s become some sort of slang that means something more like dunce or idiot or jerk.

While I doubt that PETA was involved, I still would like to know what the exact history is that lies behind this new anti-hunter motif?

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    leanleft.com/2004/02/23/the-etymology-of-nimrod "probably from the phrase poor little Nimrod, used by the cartoon character Bugs Bunny to mock the hapless hunter Elmer Fudd"
    – MetaEd
    Dec 20, 2013 at 19:19
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    "1933 B. Hecht & G. Fowler Great Magoo iii. i. 183 He's in love with her. That makes about the tenth. The same old Nimrod. Won't let her alone for a second." This suggestions the evolution of senses was skilful hunterhunterfailed hunteridiot. Dec 20, 2013 at 19:24
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    Not to get into a deep discussion of epistemology, but every assertion one makes is at best "probably true", with varying degrees of certain. I can't say with 100% certainty that tchrist exists: maybe it's just a fake name created by another user on here to hide his excessive number of posts. I can't say with 100% certainly that France exists: I've never been there, nor have I ever met anyone who claims to have been there. Maybe it's a fictional place invented by the British to frighten small children. Etc.
    – Jay
    Dec 20, 2013 at 19:25
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    The practice of nicknaming someone in an ironic fashion is much older than this citation. Hecht/Fowler are doing it; Bugs is doing it. Perhaps the interesting question is when did "nimrod" take on a life of its own, independent of the Biblical meaning?
    – MetaEd
    Dec 20, 2013 at 19:27
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    I'm not convinced there's any "anti-hunter" sentiment in the (limited) currency of forms like Don't be such a nimrod!. More likely just people conflating two relatively unfamiliar words - nimrod/nincompoop. Dec 20, 2013 at 19:51

5 Answers 5


OED online has a wider second definition than that given in the question:

2. A great or skilful hunter (freq. ironic); any person who likes to hunt. Also fig.

This "frequently ironic" may be the transitional clue between the great hunter of old and the stupid or contemptible person of today, first quoted by the OED in 1933.

The 2008 New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English says:

nimrod noun a fool, a stupid person, a bungler. Jonathan Lighter writes that ‘currency of the term owes much to its appearance in a 1940s Warner Bros. cartoon in which Bugs Bunny refers to the hunter Elmer Fudd as "poor little Nimrod"’. It is not clear that watchers of the cartoon understood the C18 sense of the word as ‘a great hunter’, but the term has stuck US, 1932

The OED's 1933 is somewhat ambiguous, it could be referring to a bad hunter:

1933 B. Hecht & G. Fowler Great Magoo iii. i. 183 He's in love with her. That makes about the tenth. The same old Nimrod. Won't let her alone for a second.

Their next idiot quotation isn't until 1963. However, etymonline.com isn't convinced by Bugs Bunny changing the meaning:

It came to mean "geek, klutz" by 1983 in teenager slang, for unknown reasons. (Amateur theories include its occasional use in "Bugs Bunny" cartoon episodes featuring rabbit-hunting Elmer Fudd as a foil; its possible ironic use, among hunters, for a clumsy member of their fraternity; or a stereotype of deer hunters by the non-hunting population in the U.S.)

As it happens, Nimrod is also given as one amongst two whole-column-lengths of synonyms for penis in Farmer and Henley's 1891 Slang and its analogues past and present.

The 1902 edition defines it:

NIMROD, subs, (colloquial). — I. A hunting-man ; a sportsman.

  1. subs, (venery). — The penis. [Because 'a mighty hunter']. See CREAMSTICK and PRICK.

Perhaps not relevant, but from the same volume:

NIMENOG, subs. (old). — A fool. Also NIGMENOG.—B. E. (1696).

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    "It is not clear that watchers of the cartoon understood the C18 sense of the word as ‘a great hunter’". This understated comment nails it. The word took on a life of its own when it was heard and adopted by hundreds of thousands of children who heard it over and over without any idea that it was ironic.
    – MetaEd
    Jan 16, 2014 at 0:08
  • And just which sort of venery might that be referring to, the one related to venison or the one related to Venus — or both? :)
    – tchrist
    May 8, 2014 at 4:24

Nimrod, in the Old Testament of the Bible, was the great-grandson of Noah and the 1st King of Babylon who built the Tower of Babel. He was known as a great hunter.

The name morphed in the 19th century when Charles Apperley wrote The Life of a Sportsman in England, using the pen name Nimrod. He was a poor fox hunter who kept falling off his horse into "the drink," and the name Nimrod came to be known as a klutz.

  • It would be great if you would add some quotes or references. Dec 6, 2016 at 0:56

I can add that Nimrod was understood by high school students in Southern California as meaning "idiot" by 1963, when I learned the word only with that meaning.

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    Can you back up your answer with evidence?
    – Ronan
    Aug 19, 2015 at 8:26
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    Maybe the answer was not well-suited for this arena; however, am I the only one who thinks it ridiculous to ask one to provide evidence for his personal experience? Jul 17, 2016 at 13:54
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    I can attest that I also heard the term during the 60s (in Kentucky) with the same sense.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 5, 2016 at 22:59

My understanding of the source of the "idiot" definition for nimrod is the small town of Nimrod in Minnesota. It had a state run insane asylum. Locals in the area use to call people that were acting crazy nimrods.

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    That would be the First State Asylum for the Insane, later renamed to Anoka State Hospital. Do you have a reference for the rest of that?
    – tchrist
    Mar 3, 2017 at 20:15
  • If this is referring to Anoka State Hospital, this would seem unlikely, since Anoka is 150 miles away from Nimrod. Also, Nimrod was founded in 1946, 8 years after Daffy Duck (not Bugs Bunny) used the term for Elmer Fudd in "What Makes Daffy Duck". Aug 30, 2021 at 16:48

You are ALL wrong...Nimrod was the world's first "Anti-Christ" figure. He appeared not long after the flood when the sons of Noah's sons had "multiplied upon the earth"-Genisis. God instructed the post flood humans to "spread out upon the face of the Earth" But Nimrod, who had conquered most peoples in existence at the time, did NOT want to divide his kingdom.

So he devised a plan to "deal" with God. Build a tower up to heaven, enter God's throne room and kill him.

The Tower was built (at least 95% of it was) God came down and said "THIS they devise to do...and now nothing they imagine will be restrained from them, come, let us confound their languages, so they may not understand one another"

After this, Nimrod was foiled. Standing near the peak of his tower and watching his former subjects "babel" at one another, he knew he could not win...so he turned, looked up, and "SHOOK HIS FIST AT GOD"

It is for that last action that "Don't be a Nimrod" came to mean, "Don't be an idiot" For only an Idiot shakes his fist at God.

2/3's of the Tower of Babel was destroyed, but 1/3 still stands. It is Mt Kalish in Tibet.

  • Donal Finn, no matter what merits your answer might have, they need to be supported with more than suggestion as to where that support may be. It would be best to cite chapter and verse,and, spell words as they are in dictionaries; you will have a more positive experience if you do.
    – J. Taylor
    Oct 13, 2019 at 10:54
  • @J. Taylor Thank you for being the first to respond. I've been accused of using sarcasm in responses, but believe I've stopped at the irony level. But I came very close here. / Perhaps the obvious mistakes should have not been pointed out, so that readers could have some benchmark by which to begin to appraise the above unsupported claim. / The 1933 'Great Magoo' mention, which seems the first attested for the 'dope/ass' sense, is 'failed hunter' related. I'm used to the 'mighty hunter (evil; of people ... conqueror / enslaver' flavour for 'Nimrod' from Elgar and Bible studies. Not the 'ass'. Oct 13, 2019 at 11:10

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