11 Old Words for the Single- or Narrow-Minded

iStock / iStock

We all know people who have tunnel vision: They only care about one thing, at the expense of pretty much everything else. Often, this is a flaw that blinds people to facts and ideas, but sometimes a singular focus is impressive and effective. Fortunately, there’s more than one word for people who are single- or narrow-minded. Please enjoy and consider reviving these older terms for people whose mental choo-choo trains ride a single track.


Here’s a word with a deeper and richer history than you’d expect. One-eyed has had a literal meaning since the days of Old English, but since at least the late 1700s, it’s also had a metaphorical sense of having a limited point of view, as seen in this 1779 use in Henry Bate Dudley’s The Flitch of Bacon: “Why, what think you of my bringing you together, for you to make a conquest of the old one-eyed dotard, (who, you say, can't see the length of his nose).” Technology doomsayer Neal Postman used the term in 1992’s Technopoly: “We are currently surrounded by throngs of zealous Theuths, one-eyed prophets who see only what new technologies can do and are incapable of imagining what they will undo.” One-eyed can also be a synonym for one-horse, as in a podunk, one-eyed town.


Thin-minded has been a synonym for narrow-minded since the 1800s. Anthony Trollope used it in his 1864 novel The Small House at Allington: “Such thin-minded men can hardly go to the proof of any matter without some pre-judgment in their minds.” Hyphenated adjectives never go out of style in the insult lexicon: another is tub-brained.


Many words for the narrow-minded are also synonyms for provincial. This term fits in that category, describing a mind unembiggened by new experiences and unfamiliar ideas. A 1741 Oxford English Dictionary example betrays a small-minded approach to science: “These unenlarged Souls are in the same manner disgusted with the Wonders which the Microscope has discovered.”


Since the 1600s, people and practices described as one-fold have either had a singular purpose or a simple, honest nature.


The topic of narrow-mindedness brings in a broad range of words; this one comes from geography. The idea is that if you lived way out on the pointy end of a peninsula, you’d be a bit isolated from the rest of the world, and your views would be similarly thin-minded. The first known use of this term, from Popular Science Monthly in 1882, mentions “the peninsularity of the Spaniards.”


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this 1800s term was ”whimsically used by (Thomas) Carlyle for one whose respectability is measured by his keeping a gig; a narrow-minded person belonging to the middle class, who views ‘respectability’ as the chief concern of life, a ‘Philistine’.” Gigman has been surprisingly productive of variations, including gigmaness, gigmanhood, gigmania, gigmanic, gigmanically, gigmanism, and gigmanity. Oh, the gigmanity.


This is a word for being single-minded in a very specific way—in the manner of the speeches of Athenian statesman Demosthenes, who was known for being clear, logical, and purposeful. A Demosthenic speaker or writer cuts through the crap and makes an argument with laser-like precision.


No, this isn’t a synonym for the currently popular term garbage person. It’s just a term for a nobleman who’s young, narrow-minded, and obnoxious. Variations include junkerism, junkerish, and junkerdom.


A Scottish variation of nipped, this term originally applied to food or clothing that was a bit lacking: a nippit plate or nippit coat consists mainly of thin scraps. That sense can be found as far back as the 1500s; by the 1800s, nippit had started to apply to worldviews that are just as scanty. The term is defined in this use from David Kirkwood’s 1935 book My Life of Revolt: “Philip Snowden's views were precise, narrow, and moulded by the immediate circumstances. The Scotsmen used to call him ‘nippet’.” Nippit can also refer to miserliness and sarcasm, like a nippit remark about someone’s nippit tipping.


Originally, this was an 1800s word for railways that were thin; soon, it began applying to one-track minds. An 1872 use in Harper’s mentions “a narrow-gauge member from the ‘outsquirts’ of the Territory.” Let’s pause a moment to appreciate the word outsquirts—maybe the perfect place to find a one-eyed, tub-minded, unenlarged gigman.