Nimrod: A Common Word with an Unlikely Backstory

Few people would question the meaning of the word, nimrod, if they heard it in casual conversation. It's a colloquial term that's used as a substitute for idiot, moron, and a slew of other unsavory synonyms. But you don't have to dig deep to find a different definition.

According to Merriam-Webster, the word's original meaning is  "a descendant of Ham represented in Genesis as a mighty hunter and a king of Shinar". In this context, Nimrod is capitalized to denote a biblical figure. Its secondary definitions are  "hunter" and  "idiot, jerk." Nimrod was first referenced in 1712, and the slang alternative wasn't adopted until 1983, when it became popular amongst teenagers. But it isn't exactly clear how the word shifted from honoring a significant biblical figure to poking fun at someone who lacks intelligence.

Biblically speaking, Nimrod was the son of Cush and great-grandson of Noah. Many Christian historians believe he oversaw the construction of the Tower of Babel, referred to as  "the city and the tower" in the Bible. At the time, all of the people on Earth spoke the same language and they united to build the Tower, with the hopes that it would reach the heavens. But once God learned of its existence, he scattered people around the world and changed their languages so it was more difficult for them to communicate and complete the task. The historians link the Tower's failure to Nimrod. It's a stretch, but it could be surmised that the modern meaning originated here, mainly because the Tower was deemed a foolish venture for Nimrod.

However, there's one other unlikely theory about nimrod's modern meaning. d/l writer Alex Costello believes today's use of the word comes from Bugs Bunny.

In early episodes of Warner Brothers' Bugs Bunny cartoons, there was a clear conflict established between the titular character and Elmer Fudd. Bugs Bunny referred to Fudd as a nimrod. He only used the term after outsmarting Fudd, a clear attempt to insult and tease him.

Though nimrod wasn't used colloquially at the time, the new use gained popularity as the cartoon reached more households. Few people knew the biblical reference and easily latched onto the modern definition. Given the ubiquity and longevity of the cartoon, nimrod, as we know it today, stuck around.

Over the course of several decades, nimrod has remained part of pop culture. Most notably, it was the title of Green Day's 1997 album, which is still a celebrated LP 20 years after its release.

Strangely, however, a quick scan of today's headlines reveals a growing fascination with Nimrod. In late March, reported that Sutak Deen Dar, an ancient gate located in Gwadar, could be traced back to Nimrod. It's believed the gate was used to provide access to Mesopotamia as far back as 3500 BC.

Nimrod represents the rare case in which a word's etymology is still wide open for debate. Whether it's the biblical origin, the Bugs Bunny theory, or the link to 1980s teenagers, there's no definitive research to explain the colloquial use of nimrod. Perhaps there's still more to the story and another definition shift lies in the future.

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