Can't think of the word like 'idiot'.
April 6, 2011 7:44 PM   Subscribe

Historical meaning of synonym for 'idiot', which I can't remember?

Recently there was a MeFi post expounding on the historical Greek meaning of a word similar in meaning to 'idiot', which was interesting because the word, which now means simply 'stupid', then meant a person lacking a public persona or only looking inward. What was this word? As far as I can tell the word was not 'idiot'.
posted by Mei's lost sandal to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Are you sure it's not idiot? The derivation of the term is from the Greek ἰδιώτης, meaning a private individual, one not engaged in public discourse, and by extension a layman or one lacking in particularized knowledge.
posted by Bromius at 8:08 PM on April 6, 2011

Best answer: I didn't see the post, but that actually does sound similar to idiot to me (in Greek)
posted by songs about trains at 8:09 PM on April 6, 2011

It doesn't seem to come from Greek, but "dumb" started out (in some languages) meaning "unable to speak" and now the meaning of stupid is dominant (citation).
posted by parkerjackson at 8:33 PM on April 6, 2011

Are you thinking of silly?
posted by pullayup at 8:42 PM on April 6, 2011

Oh, shoot, GREEK.
posted by pullayup at 8:46 PM on April 6, 2011

The Greeks used "idiot" to describe people who were not involved with public/political life.
posted by twblalock at 8:49 PM on April 6, 2011

I have no knowledge of Greek or Latin languages outside of teaching a class in medical terminology, but in medicine the word root idio- means "peculiar to an individual". We might say that a disease process is idiopathic, which roughly translates to "a disease process that is peculiar to an individual", and in real life means (kind of) that whatever is going on is not typical but seems to be "of" the patient and not well understood, or even unknown at the time. Not very clear I know but might help!
posted by bebrave! at 9:01 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ah! Idiot it is. I wasn't getting those results in my search somehow. Thanks!
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 9:15 PM on April 6, 2011

Response by poster: Also, 'idiosyncratic'; of course.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 9:16 PM on April 6, 2011

What about "moron", which also comes from Ancient Greek?
posted by maryrosecook at 5:55 AM on April 7, 2011

You may also be interested in the origin of "addled":
  At about the time the Hebrews were completing the Torah, the Greeks were coining the phrase ourion oon 'wind egg,' to refer to certain eggs that do not hatch, presumedly because they are conceived by the wind. Subsequently, this phrase was translated into Latin ovum urinum, with the same meaning. But somewhere along the way Latin urinum 'wind,' became confused with Latin urinae 'urine.' So what began, in Greek, as a wind egg was transmuted, in Latin, into a urine egg. Moreover, in Old English, the word for urine was adela, which contracted in Middle English to adel; and the Old English word for egg was æg which transmuted, in one of its Middle English incarnations, into eye. So the compound adel-eye 'urine egg' emerged in Middle English, of which the eye later dropped out, yielding, once again, a solitary Middle English adel. And this word passed into Modern English as addle.
(Quote is from Verbatim XXIX 2, PDF link.)
posted by j.edwards at 8:16 AM on April 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

« Older What are some songs that would be considered "Era...   |   Economic Crimes Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.