Printable Version
Pronunciation: kret-ên, kreet-ên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A stupid or ignorant person. 2. (Medicine, dated) A person physically deformed and mentally disabled by iodine deficiency.

Notes: The medical term for the condition of a cretin is cretinism. We have two adjectives in the general vocabulary, cretinoid and cretinous, describing this condition.

In Play: Cretin can mean strictly "stupid, ignorant": Everyone laughed when Gladys Friday said, 'I could do a better job than the cretins who run this company.'" But it may bear a tinge of "vulgar", too: "The Nazi cretins who started the riot in Charlottesville in 2017 were defended by our president."

Word History: No, this word has nothing to do with the isle of Crete, but much to do with the Alps, where apparently many people in the 18th century were iodine deficient. English borrowed this word from French crtin, from Swiss French crestin "Christian". This word was used in the Alps to mean "human being, mensch", but sometimes had the sense of "poor fellow". It rather naturally migrated from this sense to those who suffered from iodine deficiency. Crestin is a descendant of Latin Christianus, borrowed from Greek Khristianos, the adjective for Khristos "(the) anointed". Khristos, which English borrowed as Christ, is the Greek equivalent of Hebrew mašiah "anointed", which was borrowed directly by English as Messiah. Xhristos is the past participle of khriein "to anoint", which came from PIE ghrei- "to rub", source also of English grate and grime, the latter via Proto-Germanic grim- "smear". (Rob Towart saw the wonderful journey today's Good Word made and was kind enough to share it with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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