imbecile

1 of 2

noun

im·​be·​cile ˈim-bə-səl How to pronounce imbecile (audio)
-ˌsil
plural imbeciles
1
: a foolish or stupid person
… his anger burst forth freely—"… I have behaved like an imbecile! I should never have left that case here. I should have carried it away with me. …" Agatha Christie
2
dated, now offensive, see usage paragraph below : a person affected with moderate intellectual disability
Usage of Imbecile

The terms idiot, imbecile, moron, and their derivatives were formerly used as technical descriptors in medical, educational, and regulatory contexts. These uses were broadly rejected by the close of the 20th century and are now considered offensive.

imbecile

2 of 2

adjective

: weak, feeble
There, then, he sat, holding up that imbecile candle in the heart of that almighty forlornness. Herman Melville

Example Sentences

Noun He drank too much and started acting like a complete imbecile. only an imbecile would leave their car unlocked, with the keys in the ignition, and then be surprised when the vehicle was stolen
Recent Examples on the Web
Noun
Evil is insolent and strong; beauty enchanting but rare; goodness very apt to be weak; folly very apt to be defiant; wickedness to carry the day; imbeciles to be in great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally unhappy. Sam Sacks, WSJ, 18 Nov. 2016 Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government. Kelefa Sanneh, The New Yorker, 5 Feb. 2016

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'imbecile.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

Etymology

Noun

derivative of imbecile entry 2

Adjective

borrowed from Middle French and Latin; Middle French imbecile, imbecille, borrowed from Latin imbēcillus "physically weak, feeble, fragile (of materials), deficient in power, lacking intellectual or moral strength," of obscure origin

Note: In the Leiden scholia on Juvenal the word imbēcillis is explained as "quasi sine baculo" ("as if without a staff"), taking the word as formed from the negative prefix in- (see in- entry 1) and bacillum, a diminutive of baculum "staff." But there are both formal and semantic problems with such an etymology: Lucretius and Horace have the e as a long vowel; and for a word meaning "frail" a compound meaning "with a staff" would be more likely than "without a staff."

First Known Use

Noun

1781, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Adjective

circa 1550, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of imbecile was circa 1550

Dictionary Entries Near imbecile

Cite this Entry

“Imbecile.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/imbecile. Accessed 28 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition

imbecile

noun

im·​be·​cile ˈim-bə-səl How to pronounce imbecile (audio)
-ˌsil
imbecile adjective
or imbecilic

Medical Definition

imbecile

noun

im·​be·​cile ˈim-bə-səl, -ˌsil How to pronounce imbecile (audio)
dated, now offensive, see usage paragraph below
: a person affected with moderate intellectual disability
imbecile adjective
or imbecilic
dated, now offensive
imbecility
ˌim-bə-ˈsil-ət-ē
noun
plural imbecilities
dated, now offensive

Usage of Imbecile

The terms idiot, imbecile, moron, and their derivatives, such as imbecility, were formerly used as technical descriptors in medical, educational, and regulatory contexts. These uses were broadly rejected by the close of the 20th century and are now considered offensive.

Legal Definition

imbecile

noun

im·​be·​cile ˈim-bə-sil, -ˌsīl How to pronounce imbecile (audio)
: an intellectually disabled person
especially : a person with a severe intellectual disability
used formerly
see also idiot

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