clown question

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Mon Jun 18 16:58:13 UTC 2012

Aren't they both -- the "class clown" and Harper's "clown question"
(which I take as "question from a clown") related to the "ignorance" part of:

OED2 "clown, n.", sense 2. "transf. A man without refinement or
culture; an ignorant, rude, uncouth, ill-bred man."?

Evolving from sense 1.b, "Implying ignorance, crassness, or rude
manners: A mere rustic, a peasant."

Both date from the 16th century, with the "peasant" association
having dropped out because once they began claiming that they were
better than the French the English decided to deny they had any peasants.


At 6/18/2012 11:08 AM, Bonnie Taylor-Blake wrote:
>On Mon, Jun 18, 2012 at 6:50 AM, David Barnhart
><dbarnhart at> wrote:
> > "You always get that class clown question. 'No, I was the class accountant,
> > but the class comedian got sick. I stepped in, and decided I'm not giving
> > this up.' It's the same 10 questions. Ahhhh, shut up!" [Mike]
> MacDonald said
> > before heading in to tape the new program.
> >
> > Larry McShane, "What's New In Comedy," Associated Press (Nexis), March 23,
> > 1992, Monday, PM cycle
>OK, but I think the distinction between this occurrence and Bryce
>Harper's usage is that MacDonald was talking about a question related
>to being a class clown while Harper essentially called out the
>reporter for asking a silly/ridiculous question, one not worth his
>time addressing.
>(I'm going to try out "that's a clown question" this week, though not
>with any of my superiors.)
>-- Bonnie

The American Dialect Society -

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