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Mental deficiency

The three main terms describing mental deficiency long predate psychiatry and were originally, and continue to be, used in English as simple forms of abuse. There have been some efforts made among mental health professionals to discourage use of these terms.

Idiocy indicates the severest form of mental deficiency, where the mental age is 2 years or less, and the person cannot guard himself against common physical dangers. The term is gradually being replaced by the term severe subnormality.

Idiot is the corresponding term for a person affected by idiocy. Similarly, the terms imbecile and moron once had scientific definitions that have now been superseded.

Imbecility was a type of mental deficiency less severe than idiocy and not inherited.

A moron was defined by the American Association for the Study of the Feeble-minded in 1910, following work by H. H. Goddard, as an adult with a mental age between eight and twelve. Alternative definitions of these terms based on IQ were also used. For example, the following data based on the Wechsler adult IQ test (WAIS) were used in 1958:

classIQ
idiotbelow 29
imbecile30-49
moron50-69
borderline deficiency70-79

The above definitions were psychiatric technical definitions, now of purely historical interest. These terms long predate psychiatry and were originally, and continue to be, used in English as simple forms of abuse. This is still the main usage.

The word idiot comes from the Greek word ιδιωτης, idiŰtÍs, "a private citizen, individual", from ιδιος, idios, "private". In ancient Athens, an idiot was a person who declined to take part in public life, such as democratic city government. Since such activities were honorable and could directly affect all citizens, idiot was a term of derision.

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