How did the word “idiot” appear and what meaning was put into it in different eras?

How did the word “idiot” appear and what meaning was put into it in different eras?

Categories: Health and Medicine | History | Society

Nowadays, the word “idiot” has only two interpretations. This is either a person suffering from dementia, or an ignorant, stupid person. But it was not always so. The ancient Greeks put a completely different meaning into this term. It had nothing to do with a medical diagnosis or stupidity, but simply meant a person’s position in relation to society. Who did the ancients call “idiots” and how did this word lose its original meaning?

How did the word “idiot” appear and what meaning was put into it in different eras?

In Ancient Greece there was such a thing as “idiots” (idiōtēs). It literally meant “private person,” “isolated person.” Simply put, an idiot is a person who lives in isolation and does not participate in either public or political life.

How did the word “idiot” appear and what meaning was put into it in different eras?

The first democracy in history gave the Greeks the opportunity to express their point of view in the agora, participate in elections and openly speak out “for” or “against” certain politicians and social phenomena. But not all citizens valued such rights. There were also those who ignored the meetings, did not vote, and generally withdrew from participating in any social and political processes.

Those who had an active civic position were called “polites.” And those who were not interested in politics were called “idiots.” No, it wasn't immoral or bad. It’s just that this attitude to life was not approved. By the way, among the ancient idiots there were quite respectable people. For example, the philosopher Diogenes, who according to legend lived in a barrel, belonged precisely to this unconscious category of citizens.

How did the word “idiot” appear and what meaning was put into it in different eras?

Later, the word “idiot” was used to describe narrow-minded, ignorant people. Centuries later, the word began to be used in Rome. When they said idiota to someone, it was tantamount to the stigma of “ignorant” or “dumb”. In Europe, where Latin was actively used in the Middle Ages thanks to the Catholic Church, this term was sometimes used. But in Rus' they did not know it until the 19th century.

The word “idiot” has not yet appeared in the works and diaries of A. S. Pushkin. But around the middle of the 19th century it began to appear. His popularity came thanks to F. M. Dostoevsky’s novel “The Idiot.” Prince Myshkin was called an idiot in society, although he was much better than many. It just didn’t fit into generally accepted standards.

Philologists note that the word “idiot” was first used in Russian no earlier than 1803. Moreover, it came not from Greek or even from Latin, but from French. This was the same era when many Russian nobles spoke French better than their native language.

How did the word “idiot” appear and what meaning was put into it in different eras?

In V. Dahl’s dictionary, “idiot” was interpreted as follows: “little-minded, foolish from birth, stupid, wretched, holy fool.” In the same 19th century, the term began to be used in psychiatry. Idiots are patients with a deep degree of mental retardation, with absent thinking and speech. Nowadays, many psychiatrists are in favor of abolishing this term. In their opinion, it goes far beyond medicine and has a negative social connotation. Instead, it is recommended to use a long, but most accurate definition: “profound mental retardation.”

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