Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Idiot Etymology

 The etymology of the word idiot comes from a combination of two Greek words: idios, meaning "one's own," and oidos, meaning "opinion." Idios is also related to our modern English word idiosyncratic. The term was originally used in Ancient Greece to describe people who were considered mentally deficient or incapable.


Idiot came into more regular use during Medieval times with the first book in Latin on idiocy, which described three kinds of mental deficiency: natural idiocy (caused by illness at birth), provoked idiocy (resulting from physical injury to the brain), and artificial idiocy (the result of education). This last form refers specifically to those who have been deliberately taught incorrect information about religious matters; it thus became associated with extreme theological views that make one an outcast from society.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, idiot first appeared in print around 1450. The earliest known use of the word is found in a Middle English work titled "The Foure Sonnes of Aymon," which states: 'And whan they were come into yis forest, there met hym an Idiot and an olde woman.' In this passage, the term refers to someone who has been abandoned by his or her parents or family members.

Sir Thomas Elyot used a form of the word, idiote, in his 1531 book "The Boke Named The Governour," but it wasn't until 1768 that idiot took on the meaning we use today. Noah Webster defined an idiot as 'one who is devoid of reason; one whose mind is weakened or damaged.' But by 1806 there was more to it than that—the term had also come to mean someone who lacked moral sense or understanding.

In 1848, the term idiot was included in an article on 'idiocy and imbecility' published in The London Medical Gazette. Although this article discussed the medical causes of idiocy, it also addressed moral questions regarding intelligence: "Whether idiocy is a defect of mind or body; whether its nature be wholly physical or partly mental—are points still undecided.

Idiot was first used in a psychiatric context in 1892, when Dr. Thomas Stephen wrote an article titled 'On Idiocy and Imbecility.' It contained the following passage: "The term idiot is applied by analogy with other terms that express quality or character, such as wise and foolish, sane and insane.

The word idiot was also used in the early 20th century to indicate a person who lacked education or had low social status. In 1918, for example, J. B. Priestly wrote: "The West End [of London] is really a great big school where all sorts of people are sent to be educated into idiocy.

The word "idiot" came from the Greek "Idiota," which means, literally, private or individual. The Greeks were very fond of their individuality and sense of self-importance. In fact, they thought that the entire world revolved around them. In this way it was a pure expression of Greek vanity.

But even more than that, it was their fear of speaking out what they were truly thinking. They feared the opinion and judgement of others, so in this way the word "idiot" represented a sort of cowardice as well.

Their fear of speaking out is reflected in the Greek language itself. They had a rich and complicated grammar, but it was full of prefixes and suffixes, particles, accents, etceteras to indicate emphasis or emotional tone.

They were also very fond of puns, and they had a habit of putting words together which sounded alike but had different meanings. A good example is the word "idiot." It actually comes from a Greek phrase that means "private or individual opinion," because an idiot in ancient Greece was one who spoke his own mind rather than follow the common consensus.

But even then, the Greeks feared to speak their minds too much. So they used the word idiot in its secondary sense as a derogatory term for someone who spoke out his mind too much.

The "idiot" was someone who wouldn't conform, couldn't be tamed. And the Greeks feared being different or unique, so they used the word idiot to refer to people who were too much like themselves.

I think it is interesting that you asked about the etymology of a word. When we take a more careful look at words, and how they are defined, we can find some really interesting insights into human nature. Words have power; they are "magic". They shape our thoughts and actions in ways which may not always be obvious to us.

Let's take the word "idiot". I think it is interesting that we have both small and big letters in a word. This reveals something about human beings, namely that they are very emotional creatures: they can be extremely kind (as in altruistic), but also incredibly mean and vicious (as in sadist).

Are all the people who are called "idiots" really idiots? What if they have a higher IQ than everyone else, but their emotional intelligence is lower. From an objective standpoint it seems to me that we may actually be calling them "idiot", because they fail to understand what makes us (human beings) so special.

I think it is very interesting that we have a word for "idiot" in our language. It seems to suggest that there is a common human failing, which many people share and experience - but which they don't like to admit. To me this seems like the key insight of psychology.

Do all human beings experience this "failing", or is it a sign of some deeper and more serious problem? Is there such thing as a true "idiot" in the world, or is everyone on their own journey to greater wisdom?

I think it is very interesting that we consider people who don't understand the value of human beings as "idiots". Why do we think that this is a bad thing? I would even say that it is an amazing thing; there are billions of planets in our galaxy, and probably trillions more galaxies. Is it not an incredible fact to realize that life could be created just once (on Earth), but has evolved into what many consider to be intelligent creatures?

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