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Idiot has always been a word of rebuke, reproach and rebuff. But it has not always meant what it has now come to mean. In some ways, it meant much worse. In other ways, it meant much more.
Ancient Greeks would have used the word idiot to describe someone who was "not interested in politics." Wait. Before the jokes come flowing in, please recall that in Athenian Greece politics did not mean what it has come to mean today. More on that later.
According to Webster's Word Histories (1989), the word idiot comes from Greek, idiotes, through Latin idiota, and then middle French, idiote. It derives from the original Greek root idios which means pertaining to one's own self, private, peculiar, self-focused, separate. The words `idiom' or `idiosyncratic', for example, derive from similar roots.
In Athenian democracy an idiotes was a person not active in - or not capable of being active in - public affairs. From this flowed the idea of an idiot as an `ignorant person' and later evolved into our modern sensibility of an idiot as an insult to someone's intelligence.
True to Athenian arrogance, it was even then a disparaging and derogatory label. As, in fact, was the idea of the `common man' - `common' precisely because they were focused on individual gain and not the societal good.
Politics was matters pertaining to the polis, or city. But the only thing worse than idiots who are not interested in the common good are idiots who want to capture the 'polis' to serve their own self aggrandizement. We have plenty of those.
"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
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