I am reading a book "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character" where an author wrote

So I could never understand why Tamara always went to the trouble of introducing me to all these nice girls, and then, even though things would start out all right, I would always end up buying drinks, spending the evening talking, but that was it. My friend, who didn't have the advantage of Tamara's introductions, wasn't getting anywhere either--we were both clunks

After a few weeks of different shows and different girls, a new show came, and as usual Tamara introduced me to a girl from the group, and we went through the usual thing--I'm buying her drinks, we're talking, and she's being very nice. She went and did her show, and afterwards she came back to me at my table, and I felt pretty good. People would look around and think, "What's he got that makes this girl come to him?"

So what does it mean to be a clunk (if I can use it so)?

  • Don't use it. Trawling Google Books for possible usages (I'm/You're/He's a clunk, etc.) finds less than a dozen in total - mostly from several decades ago. I doubt it ever had a very precise meaning anyway, but most likely Feynman meant "misfit" (which might cause mechanical clunking). Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 0:49
  • This may be a misuse of or variation on clunker: thefreedictionary.com/clunker
    – user13141
    Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 8:39
  • What comes after '--we were both clunks'? Does it expand on the odd epithet any further?
    – Kris
    Commented Jan 18, 2012 at 5:23
  • @Kris not really. I updated my question with the next paragraph.
    – oleksii
    Commented Jan 18, 2012 at 10:15

1 Answer 1


Dictionary.com has a definition for clunk as follows:

4. Informal. a stupid person; clunkhead.

However, as FumbleFingers remarks in a comment to the question, it is a rare epithet. Searching for "we were clunks", the mighty engine can tell me in 0.17 seconds that the result is unique in cyberspace. Out of the 46 results given for "we were both clunks", 44 of them are direct quotations of that book, and the first and second results link to this question.

  • 1
    Checking the very few written instances in Google Books, it's evident there's no consensus on meaning anyway. In this one it obviously means something like "dimwit" (which Feynman obviously isn't). In another, it quite clearly means a person so badly injured he's bound to die. In yet others it might be a socially gauche person (perhaps Feynman's intended meaning). We probably ought to just close it as too localised. Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 1:45
  • 1
    Feynman says that he and his friend could not understand why they weren't getting anywhere. That is, in this situation they were dimwits. This is clear from the excerpted text itself. the definition given by Daniel is spot on. (I am an avid reader of Feynman, and I can also attest from experience that he does describe himself as dumb in social situations, especially in his youth. This might be true, no matter how intelligent we know him to have been as a physicist.)
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 14:44
  • @MετάEd, Rather well known he went on to practice with colleagues' wives… Commented Jun 24, 2013 at 16:05

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