Monday, September 04, 2006


I know that I have felt like an idiot countless times in my life, but we’re sometimes too harsh on ourselves—or on others.

Once upon a time, this word was used as a technical classification of mental abilities, but that type of classification is now understood to be inaccurate and offensive. We use idiot as an epithet for someone we consider stupid or reckless.

In ancient Greek, the word had a range of meanings. At its core, it meant a private person, but that had more negative connotations than we would expect today. A private person selfishly catered to his own affairs; he did not engage in public service. A private person had no professional knowledge; she was a layperson in the limited sense of that word. And a form of the word idiot was also applied to foot soldiers—the cannon fodder (in later centuries) of the military world.

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