Meanings: “Moron,” “Oxymoron”

February 24, 2013

Say, fools, need a little precision in your put-downs? Here’s a handy guide from the National Education Association from 1910:

The feeble-minded may be divided into: (1) Those who are totally arrested before the age of three so that they show the attainment of a two-year-old child or less; these are the idiots. (2) Those so retarded that they become permanently arrested between the ages of three and seven; these are imbeciles. (3) Those so retarded that they become arrested between the ages of seven and twelve; these were formerly called feeble-minded, the same term that is applied to the whole group. We are now proposing to call them morons, this word being the Greek for “fool.” The English word “fool” as formerly used describes exactly this grade of child–one who is deficient in judgment or sense. [Henry H. Goddard, in Journal of Proceedings and Addresses” of the National Education Association of the United States, July 1910]

So there you have your differentiation among “idiots,” “imbeciles,” “morons,” and “fools.”  I’m not sure where “dim-witted” fits in this graduated scale. I stumbled across that quotation in etymology.com in trying to understand the word “oxymoron.”

An “oxymoron” is generally a “contradiction in terms,” but literally it means “pointedly foolish.” Again, etymology.com:

oxymoron (n.) Look up oxymoron at Dictionary.com

1650s, from Greek oxymoron, noun use of neuter of oxymoros (adj.) “pointedly foolish,” from oxys “sharp” (see acrid) + moros “stupid” (see moron). Rhetorical figure by which contradictory terms are conjoined so as to give point to the statement or expression; the word itself is an illustration of the thing. Now often used loosely to mean “contradiction in terms.”

Apparently the idiots or imbeciles among us are becoming more pointedly foolish because use of “oxymoron” is on the rise.  Or maybe the wise guys among us are just quicker to note such foolishness:

Oxymoron Ngram

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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