The opposite of an idiot

The origin of the word¬†idiot is “one’s own,” the same root as idiom. So originally an idiot was someone in his own world, someone who takes no outside input. The historical meaning carries over to some degree: When you see a smart person do something idiotic, it’s usually because he’s acting alone.

The opposite of an idiot would not be someone who is wise, but someone who takes too much outside input, someone who passively lets others make all his decisions or who puts every decision to a vote.

An idiot lives only in his own world; the opposite of an idiot has no world of his own. Both are foolish, but I think the Internet encourages more of the latter kind of foolishness. It’s not turning people into idiots, it’s turning them into the opposite.

Related post: The cult of average

7 thoughts on “The opposite of an idiot

  1. This is an interesting take on how people take in and process information. The extremes from an idiot taking only from their own world to someone taking nothing from their own world; everything from outside. What would such a person be called?

  2. Paul: I’d say the logical term is socialist. I don’t mean that in the sense of leftist politics, but in the sense that everything is social and nothing is private. It also fits with an obsession with social media.

    Everyone: I realize that the term socialist is red meat for some people (no pun intended) but I do not wish to host a political discussion here.

  3. Your last paragraph reminded me immediately of “StackOverflow-based software development”, where the developer often loses more time asking for, or reusing, solutions from other people, than thinking a bit harder and finding the solution himself (and I don’t mean Googling instead). It’s a delicate balance between either extreme, I guess…

  4. Since “socialist” has already been taken, and since “flotsam” (my first choice) has specific connotations in maritime law, maybe “tumbleweed”? Someone unrooted who rolls whichever way the wind blows?

  5. John,

    I actually disagree on your point about the internet. I think that our current media environment has led to many people in positions of power who act as straws in the wind. But the internet appears to allow for a strong ghettoisation of inputs, where each person spends more and more time in spaces which reinforce their preexisting ideas. Before the advent of the internet, you had to be a real ‘idiot’ to never have your opinions at least mildly challenged in your daily life. The internet does permit you to go out and be exposed to ideas which you would never have encountered in your family/small town, etc. but the practice appears to be that few people use it for that purpose; and as the google and facebook algorithms improve we are seeing more and more confirmation of our ‘likes’ and less counterindications than ever before. (It’s quite revelatory to browse your facebook friends and click in on one who you haven’t seen in your timeline in years only to see that they have quite an active online life, but it diverges from your own.)

    I love the origin of the word though :)


  6. Isn’t obvious? The opposite of “idiot” is “toidi”.
    Man! … It’s so difficult these days to find those who think outside the box!

Comments are closed.