Geek Trivia: A (nim)rod and a reel

What world famous cartoon character is unintentionally responsible for creating a new -- and now accepted -- connotation for the word <em>nimrod</em>, making the name of a Biblical hunter-king synonymous with idiocy?

Utter the word nimrod to the average person, and he or she will likely snap back with, "Who are you calling stupid?" Do the same to the typical comic book geek and you'll likely hear, "Man, he totally kicked the X-Men's butt." Strangely enough, it's the comic book geek who is closer to the original proper usage of the term than the regular folk who simply take offense.

The most infamous comic book Nimrod (note the capitalization) is a killer shape-shifting android from the future that traveled back in time to the 1980s to hunt mutants, which in the Marvel Comics universe pretty well guarantees you're going to butt heads with the X-Men. Despite the fact that he sported huge metallic mittens and was colored a very light pink, Nimrod was one of the scarier '80s-era baddies to tangle with Professor X's uncanny students -- so what's with the idiot-inspired name?

Well, the folks at Marvel designed Nimrod to be the ultimate evolution of the Sentinels, giant pink-and-purple robots that hunt mutants. Thus, his creators named him after a mythically gifted hunter: King Nimrod, who appears in Genesis 10:8-10. The Biblical Nimrod is the great-grandson of Noah, described (depending on your version of the text) as "a mighty hunter before The Lord" who founded the first empire on Earth after the Biblical Flood.

This Nimrod pops up in several later works by some heavyweight writers, including as a giant guardian of the ninth circle of Hell in Dante's Divine Comedy, and as the crafter of a magical bow in Voltaire's Le Princesse de Babylone. Thus, for centuries, the name Nimrod evoked images of strength, power, martial cunning, dogged pursuit, and otherworldly competence.

So how, exactly, did Nimrod's name become synonymous with stupidity? Well, etymologists have been trying to crack that nut for about 60 years, which is apparently when Nimrod's shift in definition started to creep into popular usage. As near as can be determined, one of the most famous cartoon characters in history -- no, not the X-Men -- is responsible for converting Nimrod the hunter into nimrod the idiot, and it wasn't even intentional.


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