Idiot is a word derived from the Greek ἰδιώτης, idiōtēs ("person lacking professional skill," "a private citizen," "individual"), from ἴδιος, idios ("private," "one's own"). In Latin the word idiota ("ordinary person, layman") preceded the Late Latin meaning "uneducated or ignorant person. 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 analogously modeled on the words prophet and prophecy. The word has cognates in many other languages.
"Idiot" was originally created to refer to "layman, person lacking professional skill", "person so mentally deficient as to be incapable of ordinary reasoning".
Declining to take part in public life, such as 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, and 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).
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.
United States law
Until 2007, the California Penal Code Section 26 stated that "Idiots" were one of six types of people who are not capable of committing crimes. In 2007 the code was amended to read "persons who are mentally incapacitated.
In several states, "idiots" do not have the right to vote:
- Arkansas Article III, Section 5
- Iowa Article II, section 5
- Kentucky Section 145
- Mississippi Article 12, Section 241
New Jersey (Article II, Section 1, Paragraph 6)
- A resolution was passed by the State Legislature in January 2007 to remove "idiot or insane", and to add the qualifying phrase "who has been adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction to lack the capacity to understand the act of voting." As the resolution put it succintly, "This proposed amendment to the Constitution shall be submitted to the people at the next general election occurring more than three months after the final agreement. This constitutional amendment shall become part of the New Jersey Constitution upon approval by the voters." The amendment passed the referendum on November 6, 2007. Hence, "New Jersey" is now crossed out in this list.
- New Mexico Article VII, section 1
- Ohio (Article V, Section 6)
A few authors have used "idiot" characters in novels, plays and poetry. Often these characters are used to highlight or indicate something else (allegory
). Examples of such usage are William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury
and William Wordsworth's The Idiot Boy
. Idiot characters in literature are often confused with or subsumed within mad or lunatic characters. The most common imbrication between these two categories of mental impairment occurs in the polemic surrounding Edmund from William Shakespeare's King Lear
. In Fyodor Dostoevsky's
novel The Idiot
, the idiocy of the main character, Prince Lev Nikolaievich Myshkin, is attributed more to his honesty, trustfulness, kindness, and humility, than to a lack of intellectual ability. Nietzsche
claimed, in his The Antichrist
, that Jesus
was an idiot. This resulted from his description of Jesus as having an aversion toward the material world.
- 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."
- Prophet Prophecy 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".