Here I thought “Nimrod” was a compliment!

By Maeve Maddox

By now you know that I’m not deeply versed in slang.

When I read in the newspaper about a dust-up over an email in which a radio news director called a political candidate a “nimrod,” I couldn’t understand why the word was being decried as “derogatory.”

Now I know.

The meaning I’ve always attached to the word Nimrod is “a skilled hunter.” That’s the meaning with which it is used in the books I’ve seen it in. This sense comes from the Bible.

And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth.
He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD. –Genesis 8-9

The citations for “Nimrod=hunter” in the OED include one as recent as 1994:

Towns such as Eagle, Glenwood Springs..and Gunnison throw out the welcome mat for this horde of nimrods. 1994 Denver Post Oct. B9/1

Here nimrods is being used as a synonym for hunters.

As early as 1933, however, the lowercase word nimrod acquired a secondary meaning:

N. Amer. slang. A stupid or contemptible person; an idiot. –OED

When I said I’d never seen “nimrod” used with the sense of “dummy,” I had apparently blocked out seeing it in the most recent novel I’ve read, a picaresque romp by Christopher Moore called Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal:

“The Lord doesn’t give a damn what a chicken does on the
Sabbath, you nimrod! It’s a chicken.”

I’ll try to remember not to call any hunters “Nimrods” in a mistaken effort to compliment them.

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20 Responses to “Here I thought “Nimrod” was a compliment!”

  • Randell

    Is ‘nimrod’ in any way related to ‘nimwit’?

  • Maeve

    Randell,
    You may be thinking of “dimwit.”

  • Trevor Huxham

    @Randell: Possibly. It appears either a portmanteau of the word in question for this post and “dimwit,” or else an eggcorn of the latter word. See this blog entry for an explanation of eggcorns. They’re quite interesting! http://www.dailywritingtips.com/found-any-eggcorns-lately/

  • Randell

    Right! Thanks!

  • Anne Noise

    Lamb is a phenomenal book, yeah?

  • Karla

    I grew up in the Midwest where it was very common to call someone a nimrod. In Hebrew it means rebel, so maybe that has something to do with its becoming derogatory. He was also the founder of Babylon who convinced everyone to build a tower to heaven.

  • Brian

    Nimrod was the king when the Tower of Babel was built. That’s why Nimrod now refers to someone who makes no sense.

  • Boris

    “Nimrod” was a person mentioned in the Hebrew bible. The name comes from the Hebrew word meaning “rebel”. He is considered by the Jewish to be very negative figure. You will never find an orthodox jew calling his son Nimrod. However, this name is pretty popular among the secular Israelis. In fact, one of my friends is Nimrod.

  • Ste

    Randall,
    It may just be a coincidence, but the word directly below “Nimrod”, in the OED, is “nincompoop”.

  • Kelly

    One of my friends mentioned this a couple of months ago — she remembered there being an episode of Bugs Bunny where he, watching poor old Elmer Fudd’s bumbling attempts at stalking that wascally wabbit, commented satirically, “What a Nimrod!”

    My friend suspects that a nation of Biblically illiterate children translated that as “What a dope!”

  • Bell

    How would nimrod come to be known as a stupid or idiotic person, when the word rebel has no connection with stupid or idiotic?
    i am not saying that all rebels are smart just that not all are in fact stupid.
    how would this come to be?

  • Bell

    How would the word “nimrod” come to be known as a stupid or idiotic person when it comes from to completely different meanings (hunter,rebel)
    neither of the other meaning refers to being stupid

  • Karla

    Here’s another view of what Nimrod was like: http://schwepler.blogspot.com/2009/06/nimrod-nimrod.html
    “Nimrod knew about God. He knew the ways of God, and he ignored them. Nimrod worshipped other gods, but he also worshipped himself. He wanted power. He wanted to be great. And he did a lot of big things. So many people followed him that he started at least five cities. The most famous city that he started is called both Babel and Babylon. Since Nimrod started it, most people think he was running things when the people of the city built the Tower of Babel to make a name FOR THEMSELVES.” He was a nimrod.

  • Karla

    “Benedict Arnold” and “Judas” don’t have “traitor” as their root meaning, but their names, because of their deeds, have come to have that meaning.

  • Maeve

    I’d think Kelly could be on to something if the earliest reference in the OED wasn’t 1933. The first Bugs Bunny cartoon debuted in 1940.

    Maybe people’s minds play tricks on them with this word, making the letter d at the end jump to the first syllable with the result that Nimrod is then associated with dimwits. Eh. It’s no more far-fetched than some of the other suggestions. 🙂

  • Maeve

    Apparently not everyone finds the word Nimrod unheroic. The RAF gave the name to an aircraft: http://www.raf.mod.uk/equipment/nimrodmra4.cfm

  • Stephen Thorn

    Randell, I am not familiar with a word “nimwit.” There is “dimwit,” as in someone who’s wit (or mind) is dim, and “nitwit,” as in someone who’s wit (or mind) is comparable to that of a nit (early life stage of a louse [insect parasite]).

  • Nancy Miller

    Many, many, many years ago (but not quite as far back as the Tower of Babel) when my husband was a medical resident, “nimrod” was one of several “affectionate” terms the young docs used for certain exasperating patients. Patients who were difficult were categorized by the traits which annoyed or baffled the residents–“nimrod” was one classification. There were quite a few labels, but most of the others now elude me, although I do recall hearing about some “oscars,” which I imagine referenced “Sesame St.” rather than The Bible, however. Incidentally, the “real drs.” used to call the jr. med students “mullets,” which I think had to do with being bottom-feeders rather than hairstyles (this was even before those days!) My husband hated this label as a jms, but of course–when he became a chief res.–he turned right around & use the term for those lowly students himself!

  • mongolist

    Nimrod was mentioned in Dante’s ‘Inferno’ as being found in the Giant’s Well of punishment in hell, where he babbled a mess of languages that was unintelligible. This was a reference to the earth after Tower of Babel ws built. He was ‘Babelling’. This babbling unintelligably is p’raps where the subsequent use of Nimrod as a derogatory word came from.

  • Curtis

    from urbandictionary.com:

    “…Nimrod was the Biblical founder of Babylon, also considered a mighty hunter. Contrary to the uneducated twits on here, Nimrod did NOT build the tower of Babel (at least the Bible does not claim this, only that the “men of Babylon” tried to build it), and the Bible does NOT claim he tried to kill God.

    The Bible ONLY mentions that Nimrod was a son of Cush, the founder of Babylon, and a mighty hunter. Curiously enough, Dictionary.com attests definition 2 to have derived from a Looney Toons episode, wherein Bugs Bunny mocks his adversary, the hunter Elmer Fudd, calling him a “poor little Nimrod”. Warner Brothers’ Looney Toons cartoons were not written for children, but for literate adults, and often contained literary references children would not understand. Younger generations, mostly illiterate, and having little or no Bible knowledge not gleaned from their moronic parents and half-wit talk radio hosts, probably misunderstood the comment as being a general insult describing the slow-witted Fudd.”

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