How Nimrod Changed Meaning

Nimrod Once a Great Hunter, Now an Idiot, Why?

I can recall using the word “nimrod” with negative connotations as far back as high school marching band.  That would have been about 1980.    Specifically, a nimrod would be a jerk, idiot or someone who is dim-witted.  This is listed as the informal definition at The Free Dictionary.

Originally, the word  implied “mighty hunter” as The Bible described King Nimrod of Shinar. In fact, it used to be used as a first name. Battleships, and other military vehicles have also been named Nimrod.  I wonder if anybody would still consider using it as such in today’s era.  I am even more curious as to how the meaning of the word shifted.

Bugs Bunny's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Bugs Bunny’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although I am not 100 percent sure, there is a popular theory at to how the meaning changed. First off, we just don’t read scriptures as often as we used to. Second, is the fact that we started to consume television. At least that is what an article told me in my feed reader. According to the article, we can blame a certain “screwy rabbit”. The article did not mention what episode it began with. I was curious as to which episode this started in so I hit up Google.

Several sources, but not the article linked above, stated that in the cartoon, now public domain, Fresh Hare, Bugs Bunny supposedly called Elmer Fudd a nimrod.  Also relevant, it is considered the first official Bugs Bunny release with both Elmer and Bugs in their final forms. However, I watched the video and he did not call Fudd a Nimrod. (In fact, I watched several versions of the episode for some versions edited out scenes where Elmer Fudd blew up and he was painted in black face in the final scene.)  On the other hand, I do recall Bugs using the phrase “look at that nimrod” in an episode. I jut can’t recall which one.

Checking the message board at Snopes, I learned that the OED cites the negative usage as early as 1933.  Bugs Bunny did not start until 1940. The same thread also states that the cited author was rather unknown and the context of the usage does not clearly imply it to mean idiot.  While Bugs may have popularized the use of the word, I still can’t find any episode where he used the term.  I am not trying to split hares (pun intended) regarding the modern informal definition’s origin but I am not sure I can blame the rabbit.  If you know of the episode where he used the word please leave me a comment with the information.  Additionally, if you have an information on how the word’s meaning changed please let us know.