• idiot •
Pronunciation: i-di-êt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A completely stupid person.
Notes: Today's Good Word has a lot of familial company: the adjective is idiotic, which may be extended to idiotical. You must extend it to create the adverb idiotically, however. The abstract noun is idiocy. Of course, referring to someone's lack of intelligence is considered offensive, so we should only use this word with the greatest care.
In Play: We often say things like, "Only an idiot would try to balance an egg on his nose!" without thinking. However, it is difficult to know ahead of time that the person you are talking to hasn't, in fact, tried to balance an egg on his or her nose. If you must use this very strong word, be sure the person you are referring to is not present: "Judy Side must be an idiot to marry someone who has been divorced five times!"
Word History: Greek idios meant "one's own, personal, private" and the noun from it, idiotes, meant "peculiar nature" or a person of peculiar nature. The word presumably comes from the stem of the reflexive pronoun in Proto-Indo-European, swe- after a long list of changes that can be documented. Idios appears in many compounds borrowed by English, including idiosyncratic, idiopathic, idiom—all referring to types of peculiarities. Swe- has an interesting heritage. It underlies English self, Russian svoi "one's own" and sebya "oneself". The reflexive pronoun in Sanskrit was sva-, with a noun svami "one's own (master)"; English borrowed it as swami. (We thank Mark Bailey for cultivating the peculiarity of logophilia, the love of words, like this one, which he suggested for today's Good Word.)