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Idiot is a word derived from the Greek ἰδιώτης, idiōtēs ("layman," "person lacking professional skill," "a private citizen," "individual"), from ἴδιος, idios ("private," "one's own").[1] In Latin the word idiota ("ordinary person, layman") preceded the Late Latin meaning "uneducated or ignorant person."[2] Its modern meaning and form dates back to Middle English around the year 1300, from the Old French idiote ("uneducated or ignorant person"). The related word idiocy dates to 1487 and may have been analagously modeled on the words prophet and prophecy.[3]

The word has cognates in Bulgarian, Danish, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovenian, Spanish, and Swedish.


"Idiot" was originally used in ancient Greek city-states to refer to people who were overly concerned with their own self-interest and ignored the needs of the community. Declining to take part in public life, such as (semi-)democratic government of the polis] (city state), such as the Athenian democracy, was considered dishonorable. "Idiots" were seen as having bad judgment in public and political matters. Over time, the term "idiot" shifted away from its original connotation of selfishness and came to refer to individuals with overall bad judgment–individuals who are "stupid".

In modern English usage, the terms "idiot" and "idiocy" describe an extreme folly or stupidity, its symptoms (foolish or stupid utterance or deed). In psychology, it is a historical term for the state or condition now called profound mental retardation.


In 19th and early 20th-century medicine and psychology, an "idiot" was a person with a very severe mental retardation or a very low IQ level, as a sufferer of cretinism, defining idiots as people whose IQ were below 20 (with a standard deviation of 16); Mongolian idiot (or Mongoloid idiot) was applied to people who had Down syndrome.[4]

In current medical classification, these people are now said to have profound mental retardation, and the word "idiot" is no longer used as a scientific term.

See also[]

Sources and External links[]

  • Dictionary.Reference.Com "Middle English, ignorant person, from Old French idiote (modern French idiot), from Latin idiota, from Greek idiotès, private person, layman, from idios, own, private."
  • Etymonline "c.1300, "person so mentally deficient as to be incapable of ordinary reasoning," from Old French idiote "uneducated or ignorant person," from Latin idiota "ordinary person, layman," in Late Latin "uneducated or ignorant person," from Greek idiotes "layman, person lacking professional skill," literally "private person," used patronizingly for "ignorant person," from idios "one's own".
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain. on cretinism


  1. Liddell-Scott-Jones A Greek-English Lexicon, entries for ἰδιώτης and ἴδιος.
  2. Words, entry idiota.
  3., entry idiot.

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